An improv comedy team really isn’t all that different from an Army squad, when it comes right down to it. A handful of guys, all from different places, are brought together by circumstance. They each have their own history and personality. Some random word gets tossed into the mix and they start talking.
Well, granted, most improv comedy teams aren’t issued live ammunition before a performance, so there are also differences between them and most military units, but even so.
Director Mike Christensen developed the idea for Bunker 13 based on his own experiences in the Army, in particular the time when he was living in a tin hut near the DMZ dividing North and South Korea. It was a hostile place. He and the men with whom he was serving bonded because that’s what you do. You can’t share close quarters with someone on whom your life might one day depend without sizing him up, rattling his cage, learning what each of his buttons do when pressed.
That’s where the talk comes in. Even if an evening is spent doing nothing but debating the precise definition of bean sprouts, there is still bonding in the mix. And when the talk turns to Moon Pies and macaroni and cheese, oh, yeah, that evokes the memories of back home and gets the real feelings fired up.
Bunker 13 is improv: each performance is wholly original. Prior to the beginning of the show, members of the audience are given the opportunity to write postcards to the troops. It is from the words on the cards that the show is crafted. The show is set in the Vietnam War, but as Christensen, who plays Sarge, notes, it provides many parallels with what our troops are experiencing today, far from home, trying to form friendships as best they can with their fellow soldiers.
CofC alum Steve Lange (Joker) delivered a solid performance as a somewhat morose sad sack. The heavy-heartedness that ran under many of his jokes provided a necessary weight to the show: these guys may be sharing drinks, playing cards, and swapping stories, but they are also living in an extremely stressful environment.
Ryan Miller (Rhino) was indispensable, not only for his physical size (there’s got to be a proverbial big guy in the group) but also for his ability to grab the beginnings of an idea and absolutely run with it, only letting go when it’s fully crafted into a scene. His lines were easily among the funniest of the entire performance.
The team, including Conor McNassar as the wisecracking Mick and Dan Zertuche as the long suffering Z, does an excellent job of conveying the overall mood. The kind of bond that men form in military units, especially when deployed, may be something that can’t truly be understood unless it is experienced firsthand, but these guys are able to offer a provocative glimpse into the bonding that unfolds, from ragged copies of Playboy migrating from hand to hand to the postcards from home and the rivalries about whose state is the best (or the worst) at whatever is being discussed.
As a story, this long form is not quite as cohesive as it could have been, i.e. with a definite beginning, middle, and end, but that’s actually kind of appropriate. Out in the middle of nowhere, days run together. Diversions and camaraderie are the best that can be hoped for. Bunker 13 is a slice of life about a kind of life that is less commonly seen, and both thought provoking and highly entertaining.