Confidence Men: Wham! Bam! Thank You, Mamet!

The Mamet-inspired troupe of improvisers nails it to the fucking wall

Arts Review

Confidence Men: 'Wham! Bam! Thank You, Mamet!'

June 3, Hideout Theatre

Yes, these men are pretty fucking confident. Because they – listen – they know life, right? Six men – men, you understand. Women, they have their place, there's nothing wrong with women, do not – do not – mistake our words.

But these are men. Asaf Ronen. Troy Miller. Michael Ferstenfeld. Tom Booker. Jeff Britt. Chris Allen. These are men, and they know life, and they know improv. But what they know most, maybe, is they know their Mamet. David Mamet, yes. The playwright. The screenwriter. The man whose characters' dialogue's clipped and repetitive rhythms are as distinct to a theatregoer or cineaste as a pair of possessive nouns in the middle of – or pretty much anywhere, really, in – a multiple-claused sentence (that almost desperately needs to tell you a quivering fuck-ton of information before the period kicks in) is distinct to a fan of that other David: Foster Wallace.

You can't escape the influence, is the thing. You can try, but you can't ever completely escape. The influence of authors, of mentors, of those who have come before in the trade you're plying, the skills you've honed. David Mamet. Del Close. Keith Johnstone. It seeps in, the influence. In life. On stage. We're talking about that latter, here: the stage.

We recently saw Wham! Bam! Thank You, Mamet!, the Con Men's first anniversary show, there at the Hideout Theatre, and we were as happy about it as we were with the other three or four shows we've seen of theirs. To be specific: very goddamn happy. Because we love the Mamet, yes we do, and we love good improv, and here we got to see some of the best parts of both.

It's the consistency that's most unusual. Even the finest troupes of improvisers have off nights, and it's likely these Confidencers have them, too, and we just haven't seen them. But, still, at least four distinct shows over the course of a year, and the improv machinery of six-men-making-shit-up-and-turning-it-into-a-successful-narrative-that-incorporates-audience-suggestions, and that machinery running in a way that could be accurately described as, for the most part, well-oiled? Effective and humorous? Incredible, really.

And, yes, when they first started, 12 months ago, these fellows had a little roughness with the gears meshing, a little need for the players to get more familiar with one another; but, even then, they were like gangbusters. And now, noticeably improved. Even, we're saying, better. And, as is becoming our habit, we blame two things.

First, the players. These aren't newcomers to the improv scene; these are men who have successfully lived the improv life for years. Hard to find a smoother group of talents, and for this anniversary show they featured Ken Webster, the Mametophile honcho of Hyde Park Theatre and one of the best actors in town, as guest star in this show where the action took place at a bar mitzvah for his character's son. So: Win.

Second, the format. The rhythms of speech, the testosterone-fueled jockeying for pecking order, the hot, albeit hetero, man-on-man action, the fucking scheming that goes on. It's an orchard of tropes that's perennially ripe for the plucking and that could serve even lesser troupes well. So: Win.

This is why we recommend seeing the Confidence Men when you want a night of solid yet surprising entertainment. This is why, if you're looking for a double-win for your comedy dollar, we suggest you keep your eyes on the Chronicle Listings: Because the Men are returning for a couple of performances in July, and you'd be a fool, a total fucking schmuck, to miss them.

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