25 June 2009

Awesomesauce: Sax & Dixon at Ars Nova

Okay, so what would you think if you saw this:

This world premiere from innovative sketch fusioneers Matt Sax and John Dixon melds fast-paced comic thrills with an expansive collection of intricately interwoven characters. Caught in the wicked gravitational pull of matrimony, families collide, exes surface and even the wedding band doesn't escape unscathed, as this high-octane duo takes sketch comedy to a new frontier. Come sneak into the hotel ballroom for the kind of excitement only a couple of vows can provide.

[Emphasis de moi.] That's the blurb for Ars Nova's show, Sax & Dixon: We Thee Wed (I should point out the names of the performers being in the title, too), which I saw last night. And I LOVED it. There was a point, either as the show was starting or the first time they mentioned a crab, that I thought that every time I ever come to Ars Nova, there will be a little part of my heart that's sad I'm not seeing Jollyship. But by the end of the show, that wistfulness was erradicated, wiped out by a hilarious, weird, surprisingly (occasionally) emotionally effecting show. (Oddly, adjectives very similar to those used to describe Jollyship. Just not "piratical.")

But it's been irking me that this brilliant, funny show has been marketed as something that it's not. You put the two names as the title, call it a sketch comedy thing, and I'm expecting... sketch comedy. I'm expecting Matt Sax and John Dixon to maybe be the main characters, the wedding story to be maybe some true-ish story. What I wasn't expecting was the much more sophisticated and exciting show that We Thee Wed actually is. In form and style it's sort of like a solo show but with two actors - they each play a dozen vivid characters without a single costume change, whirling through crowd scenes as sharply as Nilaja Sun in No Child. And the thing is hella funny, but I wouldn't call it sketch comedy - there are scenes, sure, but plays have scenes, and in storytelling and character and scope, this is really a play, or at least theatre. Definitely not an assemblage of sketches. I mean, it's one (epic, awesome) story. Maybe these guys started as a sketch duo, but just like Mike Birbiglia evolved Sleepwalk With Me into a solo show from stand-up, Sax & Dixon: We Thee Wed has come far enough from sketch to be something else entirely.

But marketing nitpicks aside - and I'm nitpicking because I think that a more accurate marketing framework could've benefitted the show, and also benefitted Ars Nova, an institution that was very excitingly branching into theatrical producing a year or two ago, and if this show is a continuation of that trend, they should shout it from the freaking mountains - I really mean to just sing this show's praises. (Though maybe they didn't want to scare off theatre-haters by calling it a play or something...) My one regret is not seeing it earlier in the run - I want to give everyone I know a chance to see it, and could probably be convinced to see it again. I saw Matt Sax do his multi-character transformational thing in Clay at LCT3, and the same elasticity is on display again here. John Dixon is less rubbery, but he works a different alchemy, still transforming somehow. The way the story is woven together is pretty brilliant, too, all coming together in a manic collision. There are three performances left - tonight, Friday, and Saturday, all at 8pm, and if you can get tickets, do. Whatever this show is, it's delightful and hilarious, a little gift of joy.

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