High-Wire High Jinks in Sag Harbor

90 minutes of manic entertainment
Perpetual motion characterized the Stowaways’ improv show at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor on Saturday. Mark Segal

Going to a performance by the Stowaways, Bay Street Theater’s resident improv troupe, is more like attending an extreme sporting event than a theatrical presentation. That’s a tribute to the mental and verbal agility and physical endurance of the group’s five members, who generate 90 minutes of antic entertainment, interrupted only by one very necessary — for them — intermission.

The group made its third appearance at the Sag Harbor venue on Saturday, with its fourth and final show set for March 17. The evening began in the theater’s lobby, where cast members appeared before the show to encourage audience members to scribble words or phrases referring to relationships, settings, and objects on scraps of paper and deposit them into tin buckets. Those scraps were used to prompt the performers during the show, as were solicited shout-outs from the audience.

The Stowaways are Rob Reese, whose efforts to act as M.C. and director were constantly interrupted and undermined by Lexi Orphanos, Sarah Galvin, Winn Kline, and Jake Parisse. Mr. Reese opened the show by declaring, “This is not a typical theater show. You are fully encouraged to utilize the bar. If you’re worried that by going to the bar you’ll miss something that will leave you unable to make sense of the show, worry not, nobody’s going to know what’s going on in the show.”

For one of the highlights of the program, Mr. Reese took suggestions from the audience for alternatives to the familiar comic template of “A man walks into a bar . . .” 

The rejoinders to a bartender who refuses to serve whisks (yes, whisks) included, “We’ll just find a batter bar then,” “But today I’ve just been beaten,” “Are you yolking?” For rubber gloves, “I’m looking for gloves in all the wrong places.” For lobsters, “That’s really shellfish of you.” 

While the rejoinders might not zing in print, the speed with which the cast members came up with their lines was so impressive it was necessary to remind oneself they were working without a script or advance knowledge of anything thrown their way.

Ms. Orphanos faced another challenge in the first act. While she was banished to the theater lobby and out of earshot, the audience came up with five specific people doing specific things in specific places. One example had Betty White eating Chinese food in Dubai, another had Donald Trump chomping cheeseburgers behind bars. When Ms. Orphanos returned to the theater, Ms. Kline and Mr. Parisse had to act out each of the situations, as in charades, while Ms. Orphanos tried to guess the solution.

Another scene took place in a Park Avenue penthouse, whose elderly and drunk occupant (Mr. Parisse) tried to pick himself up off the floor. “I can stand on my own! I stood in Korea. I stood in the Gulf. And I’ll stand here.” His hilarious attempts to right himself, which took place several times during the show, showed off Mr. Parisse’s aptitude for physical comedy. His inventive slapstick, several bizarre vocal accents, and a rubber face brought to mind a young Jim Carrey.

All the performers were excellent, whether it was Ms. Orphanos explaining to her mother (Ms. Kline) that she couldn’t hear her advice because she was enveloped by a rubber sheet, or Ms. Galvin wandering in a stupor through a Hamptons wine tasting, or Ms. Kline as a cosmo-craving Barbie doll. 

This writer’s only complaint, and it’s a mild one, is that the show ran on a bit too long. But with no script, no opportunity to prepare for or anticipate what will be thrown their way, the talented performers are walking a high wire without a net and deserve to be a regular feature at Bay Street throughout the year.

The Stowaways are, left to right, Lexi Orphanos, Sarah Galvin, Winn Kline, Rob Reese, and Jake Parisse. Michael Heller