My Favorite Scripted UCB Shows
I feel like people rarely talk about older UCB shows, so I wanna. I’ve been around the UCB for about 5 years now and I’ve see a ton of shows. I know a lot of others have as well, so I’m interested in hearing people’s favorites (specifically of the scripted ones). Three stand out for me, and they’re surprising all one-person shows:
- Violet Krumbein’s Human Painkiller: the most straight-up original thing I’ve ever seen at the theater. She completely eschewed any of the typical expectations one has for UCB shows. In a surreal, wild, dreamlike narrative, Violet makes sudden shifts of character, time, and logic continuously. She kills off a weird doll-head man in a wheel chair and after repeatedly swinging a latex glove full of Jell-o (which, by the way, is a character’s boyfriend) over her head, smacks the glove on the stage, causing it to explode. It’s one woman’s completely uncompromising comedic vision that completely blew me away and changed my idea of what a UCB show could be.
- Nick Zimmerman’s Out of
AfricaMy Mind: in many ways this was the exact opposite show as Violet’s. It’s one location, one (visible) character, and one single time frame. Yet it’s similarly engaging and charming. A college freshman throws a party with an Out of Africa theme with the goal of winning over a crush. Unfortunately, the only one guest shows up, who we eventually learn, in a hilarious turn, is wheelchair-bound and thereby unable to escape the awkward situation. Nick monologizes to the mute party guest on his crush and peppers his speeches with Out of Africa re-enactments. It’s wonderfully awkward, honest, and endearing. It was massively patient without being at all boring and pays off in great unexpected ways.
- Julia Wiedeman’s Naked People: this show has a bit more of a conventional one-person show structure. It’s a series of character pieces and one-person sketches all playing on the subjects of nudity, body image, and vulnerability. But this one really caught me off-guard. I have to say, I expected something gimmicky. A show full of nudity? Yeah, I guess that will fill the seats, regardless of whether it’s good or not. However, I was absolutely blown away by the quality. The level of writing and performance was stunning. Each scene tackled the show’s subject matters in a different unexpected and often brilliant way. Julia never took the easy or cheap joke, instead investigating what nudity means to different people in smart, honest (over-using that word), consistently hilarious ways. And holy hell, did she sell it with her terrific performance. What a character showcase can be with the right execution.
Unfortunately all three of these shows have finished their runs and may never be seen again (hoping that’s not true). I sadly can’t even find any video of any of them (let me know if you can). I think these three may have appealed to me because all three were singular visions and very clearly exactly what each person wanted to make, regardless of audience expectations. I hope to at some point write something as true to my visions as these appeared to be to their creators. So what are your favorites? There’s many that I loved that I haven’t put here. I’d be very interested to see what others loved and why.
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