Annekenstein & Friends
Review by Sean McQuaid
The quasi–legendary Annekenstein sketch comedy run (1991-1997) wasn't my first live theatrical experience; but it was my first theatre experience as a fan, a show that brought me back again and again, so it looms inevitably large in my memory and my affections.
David Moses, Rob MacDonald, Laurie Murphy, Nancy McLure and Ed Rashed were the show's mainstays, a superb comedic ensemble. Most have since left PEI or theatre or both behind, but MacDonald endures. From Enemies to Sketch–22 to Popalopalots to Tall Hat Chronicles, he and his ever–shifting array of collaborators have kept the local comedy flame aglow until Annekenstein itself finally lurched back to life this summer.
Well, sort of. Technically it's Annekenstein & Friends, which in proper Frankenstein fashion is stitched together from the remains of multiple departed shows, mostly bits from the Annekenstein and Sketch-22 runs. "Rob MacDonald's greatest hits" was one audience member's accurate summary of the proceedings.
Annekenstein classics like the self–explanatory "Anne-aholics Anonymous," speed musical "World's Fastest Anne" and game show lark "Win a Waif" remain hilarious decades later, and Sketch–22 standouts like the psycho-sadistic "Pavlov's Audience" and the surreally brilliant "Stand Up Canada, Atticus Finch Is Passing By" are worthy companions to the early material.
Veteran Rob MacDonald collaborators Alicia Arsenault, Cameron MacDonald (Rob's son), Graham Putnam and Josh Weale plus sublime new recruit Olivia King fill out the cast alongside Rob himself. All six are experienced, versatile and very funny performers, an ensemble that matches the original Annekenstein cast's depth and variety of talent.
The great Nancy McLure's absence is oddly conspicuous, as she's still active in local comedy — it's a bit like staging a Beatles comeback tour minus either Paul or Ringo — but the new cast are all aces, so the McLure void is more of a regrettable curiosity than a serious deficiency.
As noted, these are all accomplished, talented performers, so the premiere's occasional hiccups may be opening night jitters: a few misspoken lines, a slow cue or two, a punchline spoiled by a misplaced prop. One of the more persistent issues was Weale's tendency towards full–throated screaming during excitable moments. The frequency of that tactic diluted its impact and also left him awkwardly hoarse by the end of the night.
Some of the sketches are modified for various reasons, but generally not in ways that undermine the original material. For instance, the addition of a literally and figuratively peripheral new character in the Atticus Finch script enables that sketch to utilize the entire company without hindering the main action; and while King has little to do in the new role, she makes the most of what she's given via her uniquely expressive face and some fun prop work.
As with any sketch show, the quality varies — cleverly scathing dissections of PEI culture like "From Away to Eternity" and "The Boyce" fly by while less successful bits like "Samir the Tailor" and "Vulva Capella" drag on a bit beyond their freshness expiry date; but the overall quality of this all–star anthology is strong, the smartest and funniest show of its kind since the original Annekenstein run.