“Cheese, Monkey, Box, Pirate”

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Imagine Monty Python crossed with Canadian humor and a strong dose of Maritime sensibility. Wink wink. Nudge nudge. Say no more. Eh?

Such was the scene on Saturday, Jan. 17th, 2015 at the Saint John Theatre Company’s BMO Studio building, where the Improvisation Corporation held a comedy show.

The Improvisation Corporation consists of Scott Thomas, Neil Bonner, Keith Dickson, Dan Culberson and Anthony Stuart.

Keeping with a now beloved tradition, the event was titled “Cheese, Monkey, Box, Pirate.” The title, though entirely irrelevant to the January evening’s improv routine, was developed after one of the group’s early performances and has since stuck—portraits of cheese, a dapper monkey, a box, and a pirate now in the backdrop of the show.

Like Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the show consists of scenes rather than having a straightforward plot. The vignettes concern life and death, relationships, the economy, unions and the government.

For instance, one scene had Stuart playing a wide-eyed schoolboy being visited by his grandmother’s spirit, who just so happened to fly in at the most unexpected moments. When asked what Heaven is like, Thomas exclaims: “I sit up there with Abe Lincoln— he’s really into Guns N’ Roses! There’s a lot of metal history going on up there in Paradise!”

The troupe had a special musical guest on hand for the evening; local artist Clinton Charleton performed original songs to inspire the Improvisation Corporation’s skits.

In between the improvisational scenes, Charleton would play a song, explaining his musical inspirations or providing some insight on the music for the audience.

One song, “Till We Both Say Goodbye,” resonated with the musician; “I wanted to write a love song for my then-girlfriend, now wife, how she’s been around the world and how I’m a take-it-easy sort of guy” he said, grinning. Charleton also went on to state, “Being a songwriter, it’s a bit about me— so naturally, I’m a narcissist.”

Despite not having props, save for a door and a few chairs, the team relies on their ability to play off each other. For example, Culberson and Stuart have their own Letterman “Top 10” lists such as “10 Ways to Know Your Man is Still Into You” and “10 Ways Bacon is a Terrible Part 2 of Your Anniversary.”

According to Thomas, the troupe will satirize anything that is relevant in today’s society, but there is an important thing to remember about comedy: “The goal is to have fun with a topic and not call out or criticize it,” he says. He elaborated, “We try to play it as straight as possible, which makes it all the more hilarious.”

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As the show progressed, the troupe’s diverse skills and traits were gradually revealed. Thomas projects a natural sense of comedic timing in his witty banter with the other players. Bonner is the quintessential straight man, but he demonstrates a genuine befuddlement at the absurdity of certain situations. In their moments together, Culberson and Stuart exchange sarcastic yet amusing quips- not unlike cranky old Statler and Waldorf of The Muppets. Finally, Dickson expresses a manic, wild-man exuberance, thus providing energy in his scenes.

The Improvisational Corporation is planning to stage more shows throughout the year. Thomas wishes a comedic troupe could be a permanent fixture in Saint John, “If I could do it on a weekly basis, that would be the dream,” he says.

Prior to the show, Bonner expressed confidence in the group, telling this author, “I think we’ve hit our stride.”

Given the nature of the show, one does not need to doubt his word.