Worst Case Scenario
Performed by Single Carrot Theatre
Through Dec. 21
Single Carrot Theatre's Worst Case Scenario-the last production at its Charles Street location before moving to Howard Street-is an attempt at sketch comedy à la Second City. Using scripted scenes with some improv, the cast of six actors plus one musician (Jeremy Durkin, who provides live background music) whiz through seven scenes and a handful of interludes dealing with what happens in the worst-case scenario, when fear and misfortune rear their heads. The company tries to create the atmosphere of a comedy show by rearranging the stage and setting up tables and couches, but it's difficult to shake the sensation that you are watching thespians try to be a comedy troupe. With the exception of a few moments, the performers in Worst Case Scenario don't display real comedic instinct, and about halfway through, you realize the play's a little stale.
All the sketches end grimly. In a play like this, the name of the game is schadenfreude, yet little pleasure is to be had at the characters' expense. The best dark humor comes from a place of sadness. Instead, Worst Case Scenario revels in a sort of childish savagery, like a kid making misery in the lives of dolls. You feel nothing at all for the characters. In one recurring sketch, a doctor (named Simon Garfunkel) performs stand-up at a hospital's open-mic night. It's supposed to be bad, utilizing the anti-comedy schtick so popular in the last decade. But the irony is lost in the subpar delivery: In this setting, so absurdly absurd, where the flat jokes really fall flat, everything cancels itself out. What is supposed to be so bad it's funny comes off as so average it's bad. Worst Case Scenario isn't handled with enough subtlety to be subversive or enough bravado to be farce.
The cast tries to cover up the shoddy writing with sheer intensity. Physical comedy makes up a big part of the humor, and it's awkwardly executed. Most of the lines are shouted or screamed, lulling the viewer into a kind of ALL CAPS comedy stupor. The laughs dwindle over the course of the play's 75 minutes. Tellingly, the production's funniest scene was also the quietest. It featured a therapist (Jenna Rossman) who, instead of coaxing her patients through their problems, relies on them to soothe her own neuroses. Rossman gives the therapist just the right amount of ping-ponging mania without resorting to screaming, and her comic timing makes the scene pop like none of the others do.
Worst Case Scenario isn't an outright failure-the cast's huge energy prevents that. But it leaves little impression. The laughs come like coughs or sneezes, physical reactions to the spectacle onstage. The show leans heavy on its looseness, and it's possible that the quality varies enough with each performance to make a difference. That said, the free drink will probably remain the best part of the night.