After a six-month hiatus, Fredericton improv group Hot Garbage Players made their return on Feb. 8 to a full house in Wilser’s Room. They were received by a standing ovation before the show even started.
Alex Rioux, a St. Thomas University graduate and member of the group, said the reaction was a great way to start the show.
“To come back after six months, seeing a packed crowd like that and they give you the big [standing] ovation right off the hook … It just instantly felt like we never stopped doing it.”
The improv group would not disappoint their audience with their new long-form improvised soap opera piece The Young and the Wasteless. It relentlessly poked fun at the melodrama and overblown suspense of the genre.
“Soap opera was a theme that we had played with a little bit two or three years ago … It was something that we always intended to do eventually, but never got around to and we thought it’s dramatic, it’s big, it’s energetic, so it would be a perfect way to kick off our flagship shows again,” said Rioux.
Before performing, the group took a moment to address the changes for their new season of shows. They will continue to perform their usual shows, but only every two months now. In between, they will be hosting their new “wild card” shows, which will invite others outside the group to pitch ideas and join them on stage to bring them to life.
“They can come to us with an idea for a show, we can help support them, help book them their space and then they get to lead the project and [get] guidance from us whenever they need any help,” said Rioux.
“It’s a good way to get some diversity in our lineup and to just make it more of a community-driven platform, which is what we wanted for it since the beginning.”
The group’s return show opened with each member acting out the various clichés of the opening credits, from long passionate gazes to striking serious poses.
Right from the start Rioux and Jean-Michel Cliche created an instant dynamic as two identical-looking brothers, one who is wimpy-eyed and one who is not. They both own their grandmothers’ Linguini restaurant and are mourning her sudden death in a dumpster fire.
Cliche’s reactions to the improv’s twists and turns looked effortless and added a lot of extra laughs to the improvisations Rioux threw into the mix.
Rioux challenged himself throughout the show, as his trickery caused him to embody many unexpected characters. He executed the task of keeping all of them straight in his head and didn’t confuse the audience in the slightest.
Meanwhile, Jenn Flewelling and Kirsten Stackhouse pair-up in the other half of the plot, Flewelling as T (short for Trash) and Stackhouse as T’s father, the foreman and owner of a dumpster factory. Throughout the story they turn the simple job of inspecting dumpsters into something sinister.
Stackhouse’s character weaves many old-man tales and advice while Flewelling’s character hyper-actively reacts to the narratives.
Flewelling is just as eccentric when playing off the rest of the cast as the two sides of the story intertwine, emitting youthful anxiety and comedic relief during dark scenes that are way over her character’s head.
STU graduate Anthony Bryan filled in the gaps on stage. He picked his moments thoughtfully and provided clever supporting characters that helped the story along, most notably in his role as the king of the raccoons.
STU student Travis Flynn also joined the group onstage with his keyboard and samplers that provided intriguing backing tracks to the action on stage, creating music and noises that made even the group laugh at certain points.
The Hot Garbage Players returned to the stage as sharp and as well-practiced as an improv group can be. Their creativity, chemistry and sense of humour kept the audience laughing consistently throughout the hour. They have set the bar high for their next run of shows and should be established as a must-see when indulging in the Fredericton arts scene.