Santa Monica’s theatre/club circuit has a new venue, The Westside Eclectic comedy club, which showcases stand-up comics, comedy groups and improv groups.
Go around to the alley behind the Third Street Promenade to find the entrance. The room is basic, walls painted in solid bright colors, matching folding chairs, with a low platform that serves as a stage. What transpires on stage is a kind of magic that requires the use of one’s imagination but which can cause contagious giggling and guffawing.
A recent show at The Westside Eclectic featured two improv groups, Shiner and Dasariski. Opening act Shiner, a four-member group of Second City graduates, took the stage wearing identical black slacks and tops, the better to seem neutral as they played a plethora of characters.
The technique of most improv groups is to ask the audience for suggestions, and Shiner, having received the word “suspense” from an audience member, took this theme on a wild ride. It began with Shiner Jen Cain, who mimed a young woman sitting in a movie theatre gobbling on popcorn. “I’m not scared,” she told her invisible boyfriend. Then Jennifer Marie Kelley took over, adding to Jen’s premise with the young woman pushing away her boyfriend’s sexual advances. Each member picked up the thread from the last performer, throwing in increasingly absurd twists and turns.
By the end of their 20-minute set, Shiner had morphed the premise into half-a-dozen interlocking skits involving rival mothers trying to swap babies, am immigrant tailor and his assimilated son, inept galley slaves, disgruntled customers at an Appleby’s restaurant and even a back story explaining the origins of two characters in different skits. All four members of Shiner had boundless energy and the two males, Mark Galiardi and Hal Lublin, were expert at accents. Not every moment of their set succeeded in being knock-down funny (that’s a liability of improv), but Shiner is definitely a group to watch.
Guest headlining for this night was Dasariski, an all-male trio from Chicago consisting of Bob Dassie, Rich Talirico and Craig Cakowski, whose combined credentials include Second City, the Improv Olympic, Mad-TV and SNL. Their name combines the first syllables of their last names but is also a pun on the onerous nature of their trade.
Like Shiner, Dasariski primed their set via an audience suggestion, in this case, a mere title: “The Fallen Woman.” They turned it into a virtual one-act comic play about three brothers who visit their mother’s grave. While this sketch provided plenty of laugh lines (sample line: when the brothers recall that their father wanted to “be a pirate” one brother muses, “Maybe he wanted to play baseball in Pittsburgh”), it also contained moments of real poignancy. One could see the characters growing and developing quirks and depth as the sketch progressed. This was something beyond improv, more like sudden theatre. Dasariski took the risk and won.
The evening ended with a holiday raffle. Shiner raffled off a gift certificate for Ralphs (“Be sure to buy a ham”) and a six-pack of “Shiner Bock Beer,” which they actually have bottled.
Shiner will be playing shows at The Westside Eclectic every other Sunday at 8 p.m. Guest acts will be announced. The Westside Eclectic will also be offering comedy classes including a free beginning improv class, starting in February. Shows are $8 and admission gets you entry for all the shows that evening. For more information on shows and classes, and for reservations, call 310.451.0850.