Still Figuring It Out: Baram & Snieckus

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If Elaine May and Mike Nichols were alive today that would be horrible, because Nichols was buried two years ago. (May is still alive.)

That said, I am sure they would be happy to know that the legacy they started in the 1950s is being continued quite ably by Naomi Snieckus and Matt Baram, who previewed their latest revue tonight at the John Candy Box Theatre in Toronto.

Long-standing staples on the Toronto comedy scene, Snieckus and Baram are veterans of the Second City and both have had their turn at television (Mr. D and Seed, respectively). But this real-life husband and wife are at their strongest when they stand across the stage from each other and reveal their neuroses in a mass therapy session that other people pay $15 to see.

The new show is aptly titled as they truly are still figuring it out. A combination of sketches, Nichols & May-style audio pieces, some improv, and playful audience banter, the show, which runs about 60 minutes, is still a work-in-progress, some bits decidedly more solid than others. But in many respects, that is the charm of a Baram & Snieckus production; it never feels complete.

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This is a couple who consistently commit to their craft, who are willing to run with anything that comes up—including an audience suggestion of Dante’s cab ride, which turned into a motivational moment for an under-performing Satan with Daddy issues. But what makes this particularly charming is they are not afraid to let the audience know when they realize a bit isn’t working, and we all lean forward to see how they’ll extract themselves.

Their choice of venue facilitates this intimacy with the audience.

Although I have every confidence that Baram & Snieckus would have no trouble holding an audience in a large theatre, all of the revues that I have attended occurred in small venues, holding no more than 100 seats. The John Candy Box Theatre is no exception, and the audience sits so close to the stage that they become a tripping hazard for the performers.

Thus, when you see Baram & Snieckus perform, it is like you’re watching their lives from their living room.

[For the record, I have never been in their living room and this completely unnecessary ankle bracelet chafes.]

That intimacy, that vulnerability is the charm that bonds this team to the audience. These are your best friends and you are about to see them at their worst moment. Over and over and over again.

It’s schadenfreude for swingers. [The title of their next revue?]

One thing that was different from previous revues is the pair have started filming some of their classic sketches, and they projected two—from their previous revue You and Me Both—for tonight’s audience. This is part of a larger effort by the couple to make more of their material available online to audiences.

Still Figuring It Out, which runs until Friday, September 30, is practically sold out, so you’ll want to snatch the last few tickets soon, if you’re not already too late.

Alternatively, look for them on the web site of their company National Theatre of the World.

You will find laughs, and maybe a few insights as you too still figure it out.

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See also:

Toronto Star review of Still Figuring It Out by Carly Maga

My review of You & Me Both

The Drive (a short story)

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“Are we there, yet?”

The phrase that irritated me for the thousand times a week it bore into the back of my head now haunts me.

It had taken forever for me to convince the boys to leave their seat belts alone, to keep their hands from compressing the buttons that stood between confinement and filial battle. And more than once, I found myself wishing that rather than cross their laps, the belts crossed their mouths, stilling the staccato tarantella that skipped across my brain.

Silently, I would curse my husband for wanting children so close in age; built-in playmates, he would argue as though siblings were naturally adept at civility and sharing. Never marry someone who was an only child, I would remind myself; too many delusions of a happy peaceful family to dispel.

“Are we there, yet?”

The words and whine a cattle prod to my ear drums, my head involuntarily snapping to one side, threatening to glance off the door frame, the open window insufficient to drown the drone from the back seat.

“Are we—“

“Has the car stopped moving?” I’d shout at the rear-view mirror as though it was the source of my agony rather than simply a reflection of what I’d left behind.

For a second—a glorious second—the car would go silent, but the silence was an illusion, a prelude to crises yet to come. Inquisitive urges not quelled so much as turned aside, as unsatisfied attention-seeking demanded to be slaked.

“Mo-o-om!” came the high-pitched cry.

“I’m not doing anything,” its wounded echo, pre-emptorially defending actions yet unchallenged.

“Enough,” I charged, confronting the miniature offenders with turned head.

The light was green, or at least that’s what the report said, as though the colour protected me from my guilt any better than it protected my car from the panel van approaching from the left; as though an absence of fault even approximates an absence of self-loathing anguish.

The car was a write-off, and after six months of my husband’s words telling me it wasn’t my fault while his eyes told another story, so was my marriage.

And now, sitting here in my wheelchair, all I can think of is “Are we there, yet?”

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Costume storage

Last week, I walked through my neighbourhood and passed a theatrical costume store called Malabar, a place through which I love to rummage for the sheer joy of the pageantry. And that brief moment would have been forgotten had not fellow blogger Madelin Adena Smith posted a hyper-caffeinated blog and vlog early this morning.

In it, she challenged her readers/listeners to consider the roles they play in their day-to-day lives and asked us to consider the real us that lay hidden beneath those performances, which made me think of my psychosocial closet and all of the costumes I have worn throughout my life.

(Before proceeding, this is not a complaint against family or friends. These costumes were of my own choosing and it is only now in later life that I am realizing what I did to myself.)

Here is the schoolboy outfit…god, I was so small back then…the dutiful student who wanted to explore storytelling, but knew that this was not the accepted route to success. Oh, I was supported in my storytelling, but only as a hobby. My real future lay in science and medicine.

And the eldest son/man-of-the-house costume…almost looks like a football uniform with its broad shoulders and firm back…heady responsibilities for a young boy growing up and not having a clue as to who he is supposed to be, let alone actually is.

The clown costume…my go-to in times of stress…a protective device against a world in which I didn’t feel I belonged or related. Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em laugh, make ‘em laugh. Then run away.

The Creative Director costume…the true song-and-dance man of my repertoire. This was perhaps my biggest role in life and is a costume I still wear on occasion, if only because it is expected by clients.

My psychosocial closet is filled with these things and all of them served to block my art because they stifled the real me.

You see the problem with the bars of a cage is that they work in two directions. Yes, they keep the world from getting at you, but at the same time, they keep you from reaching your true self and that is where your art lives.

During my eldest son phase, my art would express itself in the wee hours of the morning, long after everyone had gone to bed, until my mother would finally yell downstairs for me to cease the deafening machine-gun fire of my electronic typewriter.

The clown phase almost cost me the love of my life but when the silly girl challenged that I was simply a clown, my hackles rose and I gave her reams of painfully personal poetry I had written. Her preconceptions shattered, we were married within a year and were so for 13 years.

Interestingly, it was the new costumes we donned during our marriage that led to our separation last year. Luckily, in shedding those costumes, we remain very close friends and confidantes.

Ironically, even my Creative Director guise stifled my art. Sure, I was creative, but for others, not me. This is the main reason why I chose to quit my job last year and pursue my art as a career unto itself. I had to sacrifice something, and it was the job.

With rare exceptions, my psychosocial closet is now just a relic of my past; a yearbook at which I can reflect on lives lived and mistakes made. It is not, thank goodness, something into which I feel the need to dip.

The only real costume I wear now is my Randall C Willis (please, call me Randy); the only costume that was ever truly mine. The artist has no clothes, if you will.

And because I have finally divestmented myself, my art can flow freely and keeps me warm at nights.

I am, therefore I create. It’s a great feeling.

And in the meantime, I wonder if Goodwill accepts old costumes.

So, now that I stand here naked (don’t think about it), I feel free to ask: What costumes you have worn in your life or do so now that have blocked your art?

The only costume I am apt to wear these days is on my hand

The only costume I am apt to wear these days is on my hand