Open Fist Theatre Company gives late-night-TV-style sketch comedy an entertaining go in Welcome To Your Alternative Reality, a more-hit-than-miss collection of Trump-era-inspired sketches that could stand a trim but serves as an often quite funny showcase for company members in SNL-meets-MadTV mode.

Co-directed by Catherine Butterfield and Ron West, who each penned about half of the comedy collection’s two-dozen playlets, Welcome To Your Alternative Reality’s “Nylah Intro” sets the scene for what’s to come with News Now anchor Nylah Green (Emily Tuñon) trumpeting “a commanding president who knows what he’s doing,” though the scenes that follow rarely bear out her confidence in #45.

Not all of Alternative Reality’s skits relate directly to the current administration, but those that do include “Embrace It,” which has Björn Johnson’s therapist advising patient Tisha Terrasini Banker to “embrace [her] misery about “him” and “laugh ironically”; “Nylah And Mr. Green,” with Nylah’s grandfather (Josh Banday) expressing horror at his granddaughter’s Fox TV-style anchor gig (“He pulled out of the Paris accord!”); “Experts,” whose Wolf Blitzer (Johnson) finds himself unable to prevent talk show guests Jeffrey Lord (Micah Watterson), Alan Dershowitz (Dylan Maddalena), and News Now’s Nylah Green from drowning each other out; and “Spicer,” with Beth Robbins’s school principal job-interviewing a certain Sean S. Picer (Maddalena), whose previous employment responsibilities involved “answering a question with a question, ignoring the question, and laughing incredulously at the question.”

My own personal favorites among the twenty-four include “Compliments Of The Chef,” featuring Kiley Eberhardt’s Jennifer on a disastrous computer date with himbo Roger (Maddalena), who claims after having supposedly reread The Red Badge Of Courage for the first time since high school to find it “still about courage, and that badge and everything”;

“Support Group,” whose members each have his or her own reason for not voting (Lane Allison’s Janet mismarked her absentee ballot and then got too busy to go to her neighborhood polling place while understudy Bryan Bertone’s Mark never casts a ballot because that would mean jury duty (“If they paid I would totally serve and then I would totally vote”);

and “ER,” in which Mr. Messer (Bertone) offers terminal patients the Obamacare replacement option T-PAP (Terminal Patients Are Patriots) because heck, if you’re going to die anyway, why not do it as a suicide bomber?

At two-hours including intermission, Welcome To Your Alternative Reality does run rather too long for a collection of sketches among which “Malware,” “I Love To See You Cry,” “Naked Juice,” “Altared Reality,” “Now You May Board,” and perhaps a few others could stand to be cut, though which skits hit and which miss will ultimately be a matter of personal taste.

Thumbs up, however, for the ways Butterfield and West have devised to give several characters through lines, in particular Nylah and her crotchety gramps and aspiring film writer Scott (Bertone), whose screenplay (appropriately titled Alternative Reality) just might get greenlit by Tom Hanks (Johnson) and Brian Grazer (Watterson) if he plays his cards right.

At the very least Welcome To Your Alternative Reality provides its multitalented cast the chance to shine latenight-TV-style, with special snaps to Maddalena’s particularly eclectic mix of characters, from dumb stud to pretentious TV director to nerdy politico to Sean S. Picer, and to Bertone for some last-minute stepping into multiple roles without a hitch.

Scenic designer James Spencer’s TV talk-news-game-show-style set provides a nifty backdrop for Butterfield and West’s multitude of scenes, Bruce Dickinson and Ina Shumaker’s myriad props range from cell phones to baseball caps to two-inch fingernails to chess board and pieces, and Dan Reed lights all of the above with flair, with Tim Labor completing the production design with an effective mix of sounds and tunes.

Welcome To Your Alternative reality is produced by Martha Demson. Deena Tovar is stage manager.

Welcome To Your Alternative Reality provides an entertaining antidote to a world where actual news is deemed fake and outright lies are dubbed “alternative facts.” Though too ambitiously long for its own good, it serves up more than enough laughs to justify a visit to Open Fist.

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Open Fist Theatre Company @ Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village.

–Steven Stanley
July 9, 2017
Photos: Darrett Sanders

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