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Comedy Mon Nov 26 2012

Review: Octavarius: Twilight vs The Hunger Games

Photograph by Taryn Goodge

In an independent comedy milieu that's over populated with producers and theaters trying to get rich quick by putting up shows with pre-existing characters (think burlesque shows featuring video games, or musical theater based on TV shows), Octavarius distinguishes itself by being creatively rich, stabbingly satirical and self-destructing (it's performed for one night only) in its production of The Hunger Games vs. Twilight. Octavarius are seasoned authors of amalgamating pop culture cultivations while injecting the fundamental element of what makes them the top improv-sketch group in Chicago; perpetual comedic motion. The performance on Nov. 18 answered the blogashapre's question of which young adult fiction series is better, Twilight or The Hunger Games? Spoiler alert: it's both in Octavarius' parody extravaganza.

The hour and a half long show started out with the group's viral video "Unlikely Quotes from Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (Parody)", sung to the tune of a "sh*t ____ says" YouTube archetype, where one-liners, jump cuts and subject-specific references insure white-hot laughs. The audience was vocally more pro-Hunger Games than team Twilight. The crowd itself was congregation of quirky-cute female Instagramers who most likely were all at the fun. concert held three days earlier at the Riviera, which is fitting because Octavarius mission objective is spreading fun.

The live portion began with a film-succinct announcement that The Hunger Games have begun and out stepped a Effie Trinket played by a done-up Keith Habersberger, whose accent and verbiage could have been lip synched film recordings and none would be the wiser. Effie called for the tributes from District 12, which was played note for note from the Hunger Games story as Peeta (Marc Muszynski) was chosen and Katniss (Lisa Ridarelli) volunteered to spare her sister. Edward Cullen and Bella Swan (Nick Mikula and Brian Wohl) were selected from the Twilight camp. When the iconic line of "May the odds be ever in your favor" was said, it elicited a bombastic rabble from those in attendance.

Photograph by Taryn Goodge

When it's made known that these clans will clash in a donnybrook to the death, Twilight's Jacob (Matt "Tinz" Herzau) kept quipping that he'll take care of Edward and Bella's baby and that he one day might want to hook up with said child. This kind of cheeky foreshadowing made welcomed appearances all night. Edward kept peppering cat hisses and his sunken-cheek signature longing looks, while the Bella character assaulted Kristen Stewart's portrayal, Brian Wohl did more articulate facial movements in the first 10 minutes than Stewart did in all 608 minutes of all the Twilight films. Katniss and Peeta's forced relationship in The Hunger Games is made comically effortless by Muszynski and Ridarelli indifferent interactions with one another. As the Games moved into the Arena, the parody got more parodic. Carly Rae Jepson's "Call Me Maybe" was reinterpreted in a karaoke style song by Peeta pleading to Edward, "Don't Kill Me, Maybe?" Swiftly after the ditty, Peeta starts moving in on Edward's affection. The show now had a feel of The Hunger Games vs Twilight vs Glee. Secondary and minor Tributes were being killed in ways that were hilariously more graphic in language than in nature. Suddenly, a disembodied voice announced that the rules have changed; there will be more than one victor. Peeta and Edward continue their Pam and Jim circa season three of "The Office" with a "will they or won't they" relationship highlighted by an almost kiss.

Photograph by Robin Clement

Soon thereafter (perhaps too soon) the two male leads actually kiss, which was suppose to serve as rising action but had a climax vibe. Smash cut to a "Summer Nights" duet between Peeta and Edward in which the whole cast participated. This all ends with Peeta, Katniss and Edward being alive and winning the Hunger Games, but Jacob being the true victor as he's the only one who got what he wanted -- he will sleep with the hot young vampire he looked after. Creepy, but a fitting end to the young adult mash-up.

Overall the play/sketch hybrid itself was amusing for different reasons: callouts of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart's real life infidelity delivered groans-turned-laughs, the script choice to turn Katniss from the commanding lead in The Hunger Games books to a whiny-but-vital straight-woman in this production was a gamble that worked, and the melodrama was hyper-ridiculous. The scripted part was ostensibly a construction site of building tense moments and decorating them with comedic feng shui; the dry humor goes with the turning-of-a-phrase curtains, snarky asides played off the ripped-from-the-books unintentionally laughable lines, and the musical numbers coupled with the same-sex open mouth kisses really brought the room together, in stitches.

The second half of the night, dubbed "Octavarius So Nefarious," ws devoted to the group doing a 45-minute fast-paced improv set. It starts out with all Octavarius members standing in a line and pleading their case to speak in front of a jury, with lingo of objection and sustained deciding when each improviser gets a turn to speak. They tell personal stories of shopping for friends' babies at Target, Hostess bankruptcy misconceptions, and catching a buzz the night prior with the younger Pete from "The Adventures of Pete and Pete." This goes on for about 15 minutes before the scene segment of the set starts. Improv is about truth and Octavarius is honestly funny in their micro-storytelling stanzas, no punchlines or punch-ups is just the right hook. Once Octavarius gets going in scene work, your job is to take a beat and a breath in between chuckle calisthenics. It's "yes and...," but with a litany of scene directing, freezes, props as characters, with the dialogue that tags jokes with swears, but not swearing by it. It's anything goes and the audience goes for it.

With the exception of a table of giggling gals googling "Louis CK" on their smartphone because one postulated "the Jacob-guy (Tinz) is Louie's doppelganger," the audience laughter was in unison, focused and shared the same group mind as the performers throughout the whole night.

In closing, the Octavarius machine exhausts you in a most satisfactory way. Unlike Chicago's other sketch/improv troupes, Octavarius is not a comedy collective. The Second City didn't assign them all together for a level D class show. They weren't an iO team of strangers who haphazardly ended up working well together. They aren't a gaggle of stand-up comics who have "funny ideas for vids" who only co-exist together just to create more online content to further their own careers. They're a comedy group. The sum of their nine parts equals an Octavarius, and that's more than most sketch-comedy/improv groups in this city. The group is ending their three-year Comedy Sportz run Dec. 30 to focus on videos and touring in 2013. By spending years doing one-night-only productions, this group is poised for success on a project-to-project basis. Catch Octavarius while they're still Chicago's and not the property of comedy nerds everywhere.

Octavarius: So Nefarious runs Sundays at 7pm at Comedy Sportz, 929 W. Belmont Ave., through Dec. 30. Tickets $10, or $7 at the door to those dressed in costume for the night's theme.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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