Time Out Chicago (Vol. 13)

Time Out Chicago

The Cody Rivers Show: Flammable People – Six Stars (Out of Six)

By Steve Heisler

Mike Mathieu and Andrew Connor—a Bellingham, Washington–based sketch duo known as the Cody Rivers Show—make a rare Chicago appearance this week. Donning curly wigs and lime-green jumpsuits, the pair paints a world that’s just a little left of center in their new revue: A student’s Elizabethan dialect is pissing her teacher off; talking about the Dow Jones substitutes for roommate bonding; a boy’s retelling of his summer vacation involves the beach, hot-air balloons and dancing clowns.

But the heart of Cody Rivers lies in the group’s ability to punctuate performances with compelling visualizations and physicality. Rather than taking us to an aquarium merely through dialogue, the duo uses highly coordinated, highly mesmerizing hand gestures to bring the sea-dwelling creatures to life. Even apparent non sequiturs—like a finely choreographed song-and-dance number about a “Lil’ Doggie” and an awkward audience poll on hand massages—are testament to a commonly held, but rarely evoked, comedic tenet: Anything done onstage with conviction and commitment, no matter how weird, is engaging.

In that sense, most everything is fair game, and it’s on this blank canvas that Flammable People’s artful, unusual, painstakingly brilliant style has the capacity to rock our fragile little sketch world.

And yes, Flammable People is also damn funny—it sports a sophisticated sense of humor that comes not from shock or parody, but from the hardest, most elusive thing to nail: truth, with a capital T. Things as simple as using doll version of themselves to create the illusion of “being far away” get huge laughs from the sheer reality of it all. As far as acting goes, Mathieu and Connor keep the work grounded, vulnerable and free of desperation, drawing on their chops to paint vivid emotional moments: We buy into the fact that a despondent character would fully embrace the advice of an eccentric life coach, even though the accompanying meditation ritual involves high-pitched squeals and odd hand gestures. Despite skewed scene premises, Cody Rivers makes it clear that even in the smoke-and-mirrors world of sketch comedy, people are still people—flammable though they may be.

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