Abomination written and performed by the Royal Liechtenstein Theatre Company (Mike Bell, Sarah Constible, Trish Cooper, Dawn Johnson, Scott Montgomery, Christopher Read and Gordon Tanner). May 1-3, tonight and tomorrow (Thursday and Friday) 9 pm, Saturday 10:30 pm at the Tim Sims Playhouse (56 Blue Jays Ways). $10. 416-343-0011.
Winnipeg's Royal Liechtenstein Theatre Company is one of the funniest sketch troupes around. But if you saw what they did last summer you might not think so.
The seven-person outfit had to tone down their material and edit out bits for their much-anticipated CBC-TV comedy special. The show aired one summer night at 7 pm, a time slot not exactly known for its cutting-edge alternative programming.
The result? No mention of masturbation. No religion. And no Space Baby.
"I was on the phone with a guy who had made a Space Baby movie - apparently, there's a movie called Space Baby And Mental Man," says Christopher Read, who plays an original silly and surreal character with the same name in the troupe's live shows.
"He owns the rights to Space Baby in the U.S. I tried to get him to sign a release. I even did an impression of my Space Baby for his son on the phone."
Talk about surreal situations.
"Our producers were cautious, and we had never worked with a director before," explains Scott Montgomery, one of five cast members who've moved from the 'Peg to Toronto in the past couple of years.
"There was a lot of compromise. If we had it to do over again, we would have fought to include more. I don't think any one of us believes the show represented us fully."
You can check out the kind of material that wasn't ready for prime time this weekend in a new two-act show at the Tim Sims. It's called Abomination, the title originally meant to be a reference to the restrictions of TV-land.
"I think in some romantic sense we wanted to believe that this new show was going to be so shocking and appalling that it would deserve the title but people would still find it funny," says Read.
Abomination contains a sketch in which Jesus is walking around and no one calls him by his real name. Instead, they call him the Nazarene. Apparently, the CBC, which discouraged the use of Jesus' name in a comic context, has no problems with "Nazarene."
The Liechtensteins are used to not fitting in. Their sketches don't take predictable turns. They ended one show on a down note, with evil characters not getting their comeuppance.
"We're not afraid of playing characters who are irredeemably bad and of showing insane, grotesque and wild things onstage, without cheesy finales or resolutions," says Montgomery.
Even the way the troupe puts together their shows is unorthodox. Rather than fight SNL-style for characters they want to play, they more often write characters for others, then offer them like presents weeks before a show. It's like a comedy Christmas day.
"Some of the greatest characters have been written by other people for someone else," says Dawn Johnson. "We see things in others we don't necessarily see in ourselves. They're gifts."
"And sometimes those gifts get taken back to the store because they're not wanted," laughs Trish Cooper.
What also sets the Liechtensteins apart from other sketch troupes is the polish they bring to shows. Instead of those dreadful between-sketch moments when the lights go out and stagehands awkwardly put up tables or chairs, a performer or two will stay behind and ease us - sometimes thematically - into the next bit.
Credit that to their theatre background. They met while studying theatre and English at the University of Manitoba.
"In Winnipeg if you do a show, it better be finished," explains Montgomery. "Here, there are lots of opportunities to try out material. There seems to be a willingness to get up and die. We couldn't do that in Winnipeg."