What better way to spend Friday the 13th than with an opening-night performance filled with comedy, sin, and Satan himself?
Build Your Own Inferno by Fearless Comedy Productions, an original play written by Matt Allex and Megan Slawson that opened this past weekend, is part improv, part scripted play, and all entertaining. You are involved in the show the moment you walk into the Historic Mounds Theatre in St. Paul: to keep the performance flowing, guests are given three glass pebbles as they enter. Stage manager Kirsten Wade explained to Friday’s attendees that the pebbles would be used to vote for a deadly sin to later be represented in the performance. She then asked us to write down nouns, any nouns, including noncensored nouns, on a large sheet of paper. This avoided any chaotic yelling from the audience during the show and provided for a much more delightful theater experience while still keeping with the improv part of the show.
David Elwyn leaves the Human Combat Chess board behind and steps onto the Mounds Theatre stage as Dante, an unmotivated 20-something who would rather play video games than look for meaningful employment. His good friend Virgil, played by Isaak Sunleaf, tries to convince him to be more responsible, and next thing you know the two find themselves outside the gates of Hell. The visiting duo are3 given the option, and after a few comedic exchanges they choose to briefly tour Hell via a series of “sin” locations—those so conveniently chosen by the audience moments prior to the show. With a map in hand and 45 minutes to return, Dante and Virgil begin their journey into the fiery, entertaining, and oh-God-they-went-there depths of Hell.
The supporting actors—Lauren Haven, Kyle Dekker, Nathan Gerber, John Youker, and Ted Femrite—each play several characters, also presumably chosen by the audience prior to the show, and together they make every scene just as hilarious as the last. It’s hard to tell where the script ends and the improv begins. Director Matt Allex has shown brilliance in combining minimal props, quick transitions, steady energy, audience inclusion, and great casting. Elwyn and Sunleaf have a wonderful stage rapport with friendly, snarky banter that you would expect between friends. Haven, Dekker, Gerber, Youker, and Femrite just add to the hilarity with their many characters and transition to each character well. One of my favorites was Femrite’s Mr. Rogers. He has the look and sound—tall, pale, speaking slowly and softly. He looked into the audience with a wide grin and paused a little longer than was comfortable, making the character creepily perfect for Hell.
Besides a few missed cues, Build Your Own Inferno was spectacularly delightful. And don’t let that “missed cues” comment dissuade you—a couple blerps in an improv show where you practically forget its improv are hardly worth mentioning. Based on the fact that the audience was laughing through the whole show, I don’t believe anyone else even noticed. I highly recommend catching up with Dante, Virgil, Satan, and the rest of the frolicsome cast on their journey. Will they return in time, or will they be stuck in Hell forever? What sins will they visit? You will have to check it out for yourself to find out.
Build Your Own Inferno continues May 20, 21, 27, and 28 at the Historic Mounds Theatre in St. Paul. Check out the Facebook event page or the show’s page on the Mounds Theatre website for ticket information.