‘Wet the Hippo’ Not So Moist
by Oscar Basulto
Wet the Hippo, presented by The Idiot Workshop at this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival is a boldly devised and performed piece of theatre, defiant in its eschewing of various unwritten rules of Theatre. Upon entrance, a cast member takes your ticket and encourages you to purchase a beverage. On stage cast members run through their final preparations before show time; Some are still warming up. Another breaks the fourth wall by challenging audience members to staring contests. In his pre-show announcement, director John Gilkey does not tell the audience to silence cell phones. An audience member points this out to him and he responds with, “Oh, I don’t care about cell phones.” Part sketch show and part improv, Wet the Hippo is conducted by Cirque du Soleil alum Gilkey who shouts prompts and directions to the eight person cast during the show from various vantage points in and around the audience.
It is a cacophonous 60 minute excursion through a dizzying array of characters, situations and storylines. Both cast and conductor demonstrate a diverse range of sometimes near virtuosic comedic talents; broad physical comedy to hypnotizing free styled rantings, to deadpan reactions, to the often absurd trajectory of the performance. Wet the Hippo strives to reach several notes. The counterpoints serve well to engage attention throughout the performance in anticipation of a big payoff, which never comes.
The show failed to provide any real memorable moments and few laughs. This night’s explorations never really reached a climax, despite the director and cast’s best efforts. The creative team is obviously talented and the work they put in to develop this show is clear. But just as in sports, even talented teams with sound game plans will not always prevail. On this particular evening, the zaniness onstage, though often chaotic, was interesting to watch and hear, but didn’t produce compelling stories or make me really care about the characters.
On their website, The Idiot Workshop calls itself “The most frightening and absurdly twisted comedy class in LA.” Their process mentions it will help actors become more fearless on stage, which is certainly evident in Wet the Hippo. As a rule breaker and experiment, it is a show that fits well with the purpose of a fringe festival. It has been received well by critics and audiences, as evidenced by earning a Best of The Fringe extension. However it also demonstrates the reality that what one person finds hilarious, another will not. One review compares Wet the Hippo to a “jazz symphony, made up on the spot.” But comedy and jazz are similar in that there exists a variety of styles within each art form. You may dig bebop more than swing just as you may appreciate Wet the Hippo’s broad physical brand of comedy more than Wood Allen’s wit and wordplay.
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Wet the Hippo
Presented by The Idiot Workshop
Directed by John Gilkey
6476 Santa Monica Boulevard
Hollywood, CA 90038
Performances EXTENDED through July 27
Fridays & Saturdays 9:00pm
Tickets available at the Hollywood Fringe Festival Website.