JOSHUA SCRIMSHAW HAS ALWAYS HAD A TASTE FOR PHYSICAL COMEDY, and sometimes seems to be fashioning himself as a modern day Buster Keaton, in that he puts himself at real physical risk when he performs. Friday night I saw him exit his Fringe show, and I swear there were spatters of blood on his sweater. Not that The Harty Brothers in the Case of the Limping Platypus is an extraordinarily physical piece of comedy, but Scrimshaw does manage, nonetheless, to knock about onstage more than a few times, and even launching himself into the audience at the climax.
But Scrimshaw is also a generous performer, and so, this show -- a satire of boys' mysteries -- has him frequently turning over the stage to his fellow players, who are each given their turns at being funny. It's a terrific group here, including longtime local funnyman Ari Hoptman, who plays the paterfamilias of the Harty Boys family with a deadpan mix of condescending self-confidence and unmistakable idiocy. Scrimshaw and Levi Weinhagen are the titular Harty Boys, and they have borrowed from their father a mixture of intrusive forensics (as an example, they tend to lick clues) and unabashed sexism (some of it directed at their mother, an actual forensic researcher, played by a comically irritated Leslie Ball). The case is a typical one for these sorts of juvenile crime stories, and involves an art theft at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts -- just one of many Twin Cities institutions that the play namechecks and then pokes fun at: "The Institute of Arts," Scrimshaw declares with boyish earnestness. "It's like the Walker, but free and not as ugly!"
Scrimshaw and the remainder of the cast, are most generous with two actual juvenile performers, Sulia Altenberg and Spencer Harrison Levin. The former is the most-frequent victim of the brothers' blatantly misogyny, despite the fact that she consistently outclasses them intellectually -- she even punctures the bravado of the play's resident villain, played by Arnie Roos. Levin, in the meanwhile, is adept at playing a tough little mug, and the show gives him an extended, and very funny, climactic scene involving a series of blow-darts fired in slow-motion.
But the play's most creative, and frequently hilarious, conceit is the use of Andy Kraft not only to narrate the play, but also to play every additional character. He transitions from character to character and scene to scene with a meticulous lack of competence, as though the details of such segues had not really been thought-out or rehearsed; indeed, Kraft performs the role as though oblivious to the audience. This gives him ample opportunity for little bits of comic business. Here's just one example: in one scene, he must rise from the floor, abandoning a role as an unconscious policeman to return to narrating the play. Kraft plays the scene as though his left hand has fallen asleep, and then spends an inordinate amount of time trying to find a comfortable place for the deadened appendage, holding up the play while he curses to himself and places his arm in a series of awkward poses. It's a completely throwaway bit, but it's a riot. The Fringe is notorious for insisting that shows be performed within a specific timespan, and will take rather dramatic steps to end a show that goes over; given that, it's a real pleasure to see that the Harty Boys made room for unnecessary comic moments simply because they are funny. This show, in particular, benefits from a sense of chaos, as though the performers themselves had forgotten what is important in favor of what is fun.
Fringe performance details for this show:
The Harty Boys in the Case of the Limping Platypus by Joshua Scrimshaw and Levi Weinhagen is on stage at the University of Minnesota's Rarig Center Thrust for two remaining shows: August 8 @ 2: 30 pm and August 9 @ 5:30 pm.
Check back regularly throughout the Fringe Festival for more short reviews on mnartists.org, sent in from our intrepid performance critics.
About the author: Max Sparber is an arts writer and playwright, as well as being the editor of the MnSpeak section of Secrets of the City and Daily Glean writer for MinnPost. Max is an active blogger, and most of his own projects, as well as his arts writing, can be found on his blog at http://www.sparberfans.blogspot.com/.