It is a bold endeavor to take on a show that requires the successful redelivering of the work of Monty Python, the legendary British comedy troupe that changed the art form. In fact, I did some research and Monty Python’s Edukational Show appears to have been written for performance by young actors in elementary school through college — young performers who wouldn’t have to worry about living up to the Pythons as a premise of their production. But the Vienna Theatre Company is all adults, and having actors that look and sound like Pythons creates incredible pressure on the performers. So thank goodness that several of the actors here do have essentially equivalent talents for performance and comedic timing, while also making the performances their own. It rarely feels like the performers are doing impressions of any specific Python member, making their performances deserving of even greater kudos.
Monty Python’s Edukational Show is made up of a series of sketches, songs, and one-liners between sketches from Monty Python’s BBC television show Monty Python’s Flying Circus, including (songs are in quotes) the Parrot Sketch, the Spanish Inquisition, the Ministry of Silly Walks, the Cheese Shop, “Spam,” Argument Clinic, the Election Night Special, “Galaxy Song,” and (I’m surprised it’s still in there) “Lumberjack Song.”
To take on a show that requires its actors to have the performance chops of some of the most successful, subtle, and even confusingly good — as in, my mom is understandably often confused as to why they are funny — comedic performers of all time is a profoundly ambitious affair, and the Vienna Theatre Company actually, for the most part, pulls it off under Eric Storck’s direction.
Why is it so hard to reenact Python? The Pythons’ approach to comedy requires complete and utter buy-in to the premise and setting from both the performers and the audience. This enables the absurdity in the sketches (of which there is often even more in Python than in the work of other comedy troupes) to indeed feel absurd against its believable, “everyday” backdrop by contrast. This organic feel has to come through in almost every element except the show’s thing-out-of-place. Lorne Michaels, the creator and longtime producer of Saturday Night Live, has spoken about the importance of a realistic set to a comedy sketch landing: veteran SNL set designer Eugene Lee has said that Michaels “doesn’t like sets that aren’t real, or a set that draws too much attention to itself.” These kinds of sets don’t feel like natural settings where something absurd or unusual would be absurd or unusual.
Similarly, much of the humor in the original Python sketches also comes in the natural-sounding delivery from the actors, who often spoke quickly to a fault in the original sketches — but the quick speaking made the performances feel true to life, and also kept the laugh-a-minute, constant-shots-of-dopamine pace going pause-free. In many cases, the Vienna Theatre Company achieves this. Bruce Alan Rauscher, who often takes on energetic roles held by Eric Idle and Michael Palin, is a phenomenal performer (it’s no wonder, given that as the playbill notes, he attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, the oldest acting school in the English-speaking world). Rauscher’s performance as Michael Palin’s Spanish Inquisitor was the highlight of the night: he pulls off the character’s buffoonish all-bark-and-no-bite best efforts to intimidate grandmas with cushions and a dish-drying rack with sparkling panache that’s a joy to behold.
Another standout performer is Charlie Boone — the spitting image of Terry Gilliam when he was younger, by the way — whose complete immersion in the characters he plays beckons the audience into that immersion too. Benjamin Zimmerman and Patrick Hogan are also standouts for their roles originally held by John Cleese — they are excellent at pulling off his bewildered, nonplussed formality, which accepts he must deal with the absurd existence that comes with being in a Monty Python sketch. Kevin Lukacs shows off his impressive stage presence in “Money Song,” through which he also brings the show to a festive close with an “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” singalong as an impromptu emcee.
The show’s crew’s love for the material is apparent: Lauren Brooks’ sheer quantity of costume design work is stupendous, given that the show is made up of a huge number of short sketches with new costumes in almost every one. The animations made in addition to the licensed Terry Gilliam pieces by Mason Shelby are also delightful — I heard so many attendees around me laughing at the new animations’ local Vienna references, including one with a Spiny Norman-esque cat creeping behind a Vienna strip mall. This show took its challenge and ran with it with visible love for the source material from all involved.
When the show isn’t as successful, it is often due to the lack of a clear punch line in the script itself, which makes it difficult for the sketch to register with the audience without the minds of the sketch’s authors themselves having control of the material on stage. Without the masterful, once-in-a-generation comedic prowess of the Pythons, of whom at least a few had put in their 10,000 hours on comedy before Flying Circus, the show of course occasionally teeters given how dependent the sketches are on the subtleties of performance. But to perform the sketches not as their writers but as loving audience members of the originals, performing the sketches 50+ years later to a crowd that may very well have most of them memorized, is of course an enormous feat to pull off — and the fact that any of the sketches are performed so well as the Vienna Theatre Company does is a marvel.
Running Time: 80 minutes, with an approximately 10-minute intermission.
Monty Python’s Edukational Show plays next January 27, 28, and 29 and February 3, 4, and 5, 2023, presented by Vienna Theatre Company performing at Vienna Community Center, 120 Cherry Street SE, Vienna, VA. Tickets ($15) can be purchased online, in person at the Vienna Community Center during open hours, or before each performance if available.
COVID Safety: Masks are optional.
Monty Python’s Edukational Show
Written by Monty Python, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Music & lyrics by Eric Idle
Animation by Terry Gilliam
Directed by Eric Storck
Produced by Ann Storck
Bruce Alan Rauscher