After last year’s well-received improv show Pilgrimage, Frankenmatt — Frank Caeti and Matt Craig — return to Piccolo Spoleto this year with a scripted show that pulses with all the manic energy of the best improv.
A road trip to Charleston provides the narrative frame, from which Caeti and Craig launch off into an impressively varied array of skits, dance numbers, and musical interludes. First apologizing for their aversion to the humidity and tendency to “sweat like mule deer,” they hopped in the “car” for their much-anticipated journey, with Pearl Jam’s “Evenflow” providing the soundtrack — and an excuse for the guys to amusingly riff on Eddie Vedder’s garbled vocal delivery.
The intersection of music and memory is a common theme throughout the show. During a lively discussion of the power of musical theater — Craig candidly discusses, tongue firmly in cheek, his love for Les Miserables — Caeti claims that he’s never “happy or sad enough to just start singing.” Fortunately that wasn’t the case for this iteration of Frankenmatt, as impromptu singing and dancing moved the show along without intruding on the individual scenes.
After a stoner-with-the-munchies sketch that didn’t really go anywhere, Craig’s nervous audition for a Slinky commercial proved to be one of the show’s highlights. With Caeti prodding him to “just have some fun with it” — code for improvising without the commercial director having to pay the actor extra for his services — Craig struggles to find the right voice. Eventually Caeti suggests he read the part in the character of George Gaynes, the acclaimed stage actor best known as Commandant Eric Lassard in the Police Academy movies and as Punky Brewster’s father on the short-lived ’80s sitcom. Both Caeti and Craig have appeared in their fair share of commercials, and the Slinky sketch was an ingenious take on the daily drudgeries of that kind of work.
While much of the show roars by in improv-like flashes, complemented by the nicely varied soundtrack, one sketch in particular stood out as the crowd-pleaser. A Mississippi courtroom scene chronicles the trial of Charlemagne Le Roy, a six-inch-tall doll who looks on without emotion — understandable; he’s a doll — as Craig and Caeti run around the stage alternating between the many parts in wonderfully exaggerated deep-South accents.
This year’s version of Frankenmatt, though not technically improv, maintains that spirit and demonstrates a greater range for these Second City alums and rising comedy stars.