There are only a few days left to go in 2018. Local comedy outfit Mojo Dojo finds a bit more room in the year for a little improv holiday stage stuffer. The Santa Diaries makes a few appearances the last few days of this month along with opening improv group The Shindig. The double bill of comedy played to a packed house at Urban Harvest Brewing Company.
The Shindig is a group of four improv comics doing improv games. There are two men. There are two women. It’s light. It’s fun. At the end of a brief selection of improv games, the audience votes on their favorite performer. It’s a breezy intro to the main improv event. A nice set-up for a slightly higher-concept bit of long-form improv.
A dapperly bearded Eric Koconis introduces The Santa Diaries. The premise? He’s a thin, trim dashing Santa Claus who spends the offseason engaging in...espionage. He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He’s shaken but not stirred. It’s a clever springboard for long-form improv featuring some of the most seasoned improv comics in Milwaukee.
In character, Koconis asks for a single suggestion from the audience: some event from history that super-spy Santa might have had a hand in. To me this seems like a minefield. Lots of room for falling into some obscure part of history that might not actually be all that rich with comic potential, but these ARE some of the most experience improv comics in town and...they know what they’re doing. Opening night the suggestion was: the invention of the wheel. Koconis and company climbed back roughly 5,000 years (give or take) into pre-history.
To their credit, the group didn’t fall to any cheesy Flintstone references. Vince Figueroa opened as a man struggling to come up with the right gift for his wife. He was a man...only capable of giving rocks. Lee Rowley fell into the role of his son--a perfectly normal student from the stone age...who just happened to have casual knowledge of the world from a modern perspective. This turned out to be kind of a fun juxtaposition against Beth Lewinsky as his teacher...a small-cave instructor responsible for a class of one without much to teach. (Liv Shircel was charming as her assistant, who also served as co-captain for the one-student caveschool’s Rockball team...which ended up being kind of a big subplot.) Rowley, Figueroa and Lewinsky are great together.
The dynamic between the three central talents is a lot of fun to watch. Figueroa cleverly stalked appropriately sharp bits of comedy about a caveman living in an era before any kind of morality. Rowley played a fish out of water as a perfectly normal modern high schooler way ahead of his time for the stone age. As teacher, Lewinsky did an impressive job of assembling an appropriately comic intellectual understanding of the world as seen through a pre-historic perspective. I love to see Lewinsky in scripted comedy on those relatively rare occasions that she makes an appearance. Her improv skills have a great depth that I wish I had the opportunity to see a bit more often. The dynamic between Figueroa, Rowley and Lewinsky was periodically enhanced by appearances of Koconis in character trying to nudge primitive humanity in the direction of one of the single most important inventions ever. Could he pry the young student away from the particularly brutal scholastic sport of rockball long enough to get him involved in the whole business of the wheel? Well...no. Who really invented the wheel? Having failed at more subtle hints, Santa had no choice but to do it himself. (Nice gift.)
Mojo Dojo and Eric Koconis’ The Santa Diaries and The (Holiday) Shindig continues through Dec. 29 at Urban Harvest Brewing Company on 1024-1028 South 5th Street. For more information, visit Mojo Dojo online.