Montgomery County neighbors driving along Research Forest last Saturday night may have wondered about the source of the peals of laughter that could be heard as they passed The Woodlands High School. That laughter was coming from the high school’s Black Box Theatre where senior student, Vic Shuttee, was presenting the final performance of his original and very zany comedy, Second Banana, to an SRO audience. Shuttee also served as director for this energetic young cast of fellow thespians. I learned recently that the play’s premise revolved around a struggling late night talk show (cleverly titled “The After Hours”), which on a particular evening was competing with the final night of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Armed with the knowledge that a high school senior in the 21st century had referenced Mr. Carson in an original play, I could not resist attending. In my opinion, the late night talk show circuit lost much of its taste, elegance, and true comic genius with the departure of Mr. Carson.
In an amusing way, Second Banana seems to symbolize the steep decline that followed in that industry. We have the wacky host, Roger Wink (Joe Dougherty), the hapless sidekick foil, Frank Suggs (Jonah Yohana), and the bubble-headed Hollywood guest starlet, Rachael Diarrhea (she pronounces the name elegantly), breezily played by Holly Rogers. Rachel Schardt does well as a kind of stage manager who tries (with riotous and very limited success) to keep things running smoothly on the humorously ill-fated “After Hours” set. (Compounding the mayhem is the network decision to have this special telecast go out live from coast to coast). Luc Armstrong adds to the laughs as the lunatic Russian magician scheduled as a guest, Casey Hale is the nutty and poncho-clad Mexican peasant who offers regular comic relief on the show, and Katlin Newman plays the temperamental Marline L’Chiam, who represents the brass at “The Cheap Network” (TCN), and the insistent quest for higher ratings.
The pre-show music came from an onstage band that was also cleverly titled as “The Late Night Snackers.” It featured Dani DePoy on keyboard, Matt Brown on guitar, Chase Godwin on bass, and Matt Davis on some very noisy drums in the small theater. Then Frank warmed up the crowd with some cute limericks and silly jokes. I.E.: “The first time I was inside a woman (pause) …was when I visited the Statue of Liberty.” The simple set was typical of late night with its desk for the host, and a couch for the sidekick and guests. A back projection of a city’s night skyline made for an appropriate backdrop.
The action of the piece offered more slapstick than a Three Stooges movie. There were countless pratfalls, and of course, the obligatory pie in the face. Mr. Yohana was suitably pathetic as the put-upon sidekick who is most often the butt of jokes. Mr. Dougherty was slick and smoothly glib as the ruthlessly arrogant and witty host, sometimes reminding one of the sly comic styles of Ashton Kutcher. His outrageous “death” scene, after accidentally drinking a mysterious blue liquid during a commercial break, was one of the show’s uproarious highlights. He was particularly skilled in miming his monologue during several segments when other action took the spotlight while he carried on silently addressing the audience. He really looked the part of a wisecracking emcee. Meanwhile, Mr. Armstrong must be strong indeed, as his role required him to hilariously carry several actors offstage.
While all of this was decidedly over-the-top as theatre, the audience of friends, family, and fellow students roared with both laughter and approval. The material might even be worth continued re-working to sharpen the comedy and make it less heavy-handed. Oh, and one more thing. I really liked the title, “The After Hours.” It might be just the right title for the play.
Shuttee has been named The Woodlands High School Theatre’s Student of the Year. He was awarded first place in prose in the UIL District Prose and Poetry contest, and also won the Texas Educational Theatre Association playwriting contest in January. His play, “Godawful,” was produced at the TETA Convention in Dallas.