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undercurrents festival: Punch Up needs to be punched up

By Barbara Popel on February 15, 2015

Theatre Brouhaha from Toronto pitches their creations as “theatre for the HBO generation” and as “pitch black comedy”. This play by writer/director Kat Sandler won both Best of Fest at the 2014 Toronto Fringe Festival and Patron’s Pick.  So I was expecting to laugh a lot at Punch Up.  But I didn’t.  Neither did my theatre/life companion, who is known for having one of the loudest most infectious laughs in Ottawa.  But others in the audience did laugh a great deal, even at the jokes which were not supposed to be funny.  For example, in a standup routine at the beginning of the play, the comedian Pat tells a pathetic joke about Jamie Oliver which is intended to illustrate that Pat has lost his comedic chops.  Some of the audience thought it was hilarious.

The plot of Punch Up seems to be a riff on Martin Scorsese’s film The King of Comedyin which a loser who thinks he’s a comedian, with the help of a psychotic female friend, stalks and kidnaps a famous TV talk show host with the goal of convincing him to let him do his comedy routine on the host’s show.

In Punch Up, Duncan, a pathetic guy with some unspecified mental health problems, kidnaps Pat, “the funniest man alive”, so that Pat can teach Duncan (“the most pathetic man there is”) how to make Brenda, “the saddest girl in the world”, laugh. Duncan has made a pact with Brenda, whom he loves madly, that if he can make her laugh just once over dinner, she will abandon her plan to kill herself.  Otherwise, Duncan has promised he’ll help her do herself in.  Brenda is suicidal because everything and everyone she has ever loved has died; she’s sure it’s because she loved them.

The actors – Colin Munch (Pat), Tim Walker (Duncan) and Caitlin Driscoll (Brenda) – are competent, but the script just isn’t very funny.  Honest, I really did want to laugh, and a few of the lines did cause me to chuckle.  Brenda says she named her pet lizard Todd because it sounds like the kind of name you’d give to something you didn’t care about.  Duncan is sure it’s love at first sight (Brenda is on a window ledge at the time, about to jump) because his sight went blurry, his heart speeded up, his stomach flipped, and he smelt waffles.  And though Duncan hasn’t a clue about humour, he does deliver a pretty good line midway through the play:  “Sometimes when I’m putting together Ikea furniture, I think the guy in the pamphlet looks more confused than I am.”

But in general the laughs for me and my companion were few and far between.  Maybe there will be more laughs for you.

Pat tells Duncan that, now that Pat’s wife has left him and his career as a comedian is in the toilet, he’s working on  “punching up” others’ material, that is, he’s making it funnier.  I think Punch Up could use some punching up itself.

Punch Up is presented by undercurrents theatre festival, taking place at Arts Court Studio (2 Daly Ave) until February 21, 2015. This performance is $15 or buy either an afternoon or an evening pass for $25. Two performances remain: Sunday February 14 at 1 pm and Tuesday, February 17 at 9 pm. Click here for a detailed schedule.