review by david clarke
What happens when you mix equal parts Murder, She Wrote with Mad Libs? You get Billy Mitchell's rib-tickling theatrical confection VILLAIN: DeBLANKS.
Mitchell has written and directed one of the best ways to spend an hour and some change in the city. At the top of the show, the audience is introduced to the ever-changing and star-studded cast. Then, the cast mingles with the audience to fill in the blanks in their scripts. Moving around the room, they ask for nouns, adjectives, numbers, and more. Once everyone's lines are completed, the cast returns to the stage and the fun really begins.
Mitchell's cleverly named characters are brought to life by through the individuality and artistry of each member of his cast. Since the performers get to add their own unique touches to these vibrant and wonderfully clichéd murder-mystery caricatures, you can be guaranteed to never see the same show twice even if somehow the audience given words were the same.
rib-tickling theatrical confection.
one of the best ways to spend an hour and some change in the city.
For December the cast featured Hunter Ryan Herdlicka as DeBlank's estranged friend Bob Frapples, Lauren Elder as DeBlank's business partner Lynn O'Liam, Bobby Cronin as DeBlank's chauffeur Aaron Matires, Daisy Eagan as DeBlank's secret fiancé Fonda Jewels, Geneva Carr as actress Rhoda Pony, and Peter Filichia as film director Orson Buggy. The special media guest was Steve Schonberg of Center On the Aisle.
Yet, for this murder mystery, the star of the show is not really who did it. Instead, it's what will they say next? In addition to the audience generated words, adlibs and improv are encouraged, so there is no telling what may happen. And, that's the true magic in this recipe. For example, Eagan was committed to a delicious southern drawl for her version of Fonda Jewels, which made the character's speech patterns slower and each word more intentional than those surrounding her. Carr's Rhoda Pony was skitterish and jumpy, making her seem all the more guilty in addition to being wholly unpredictable. Elder's Lynn O'Liam was a smooth talking, sophisticated women of business who always seemed like she had something to hide. Cronin's Aaron Matires was earnest and wholly likeable, which made him seemingly the most unlikely to murder. Herdlicka's dry witted Bob Frapples was aloof and distant, making him appear to have questionable characteristics. Filichia's Orson Buggy was a slow-witted, humble man just looking to return to his former glory.
The comedic whodunit has been previously seen in LA and around New York, earning hearty guffaws and cheers every time it takes the stage.
review by Nickolaus Hines
Before there were TVs in every car and a proliferation of shows from television's "Golden Age" on que for instant consumption, there were communal family games. Villain: DeBlanks harkens back to the communal qualities of that time, but it is unapologetically, hilariously, not restricted to clean family fun.
Villain: DeBlanks (possibly pronounced Fill In The Blanks) is a Mad Libs - vaudeville - murder mystery - choose-your-own-adventure mash up conceived of/written by Billy Mitchell. A stage prepared for what could best be described as a script reading is filled by a new cast of actors for each performance. And while the actors are Tony Award winners and Broadway celebrities, the audience is the star of the show.
The audience decides the pace, atmosphere, and tone of the night. Shortly after being seated and introduced to the night's cast, the cast descends into the audience with script and pen in hand.
"I need a verb."
"Give me a place."
"Can you tell me a type of vehicle used in construction?"
the largest and most public game of vaudevillian Mad Libs I have ever seen. unapologetically, hilariously, not restricted to clean family fun.
It's clear by the actor's face when a given word is going somewhere comedic. Speculation on exactly why it's comedic, however, are the only snippets of sound that can be heard from the audience members sitting on cozy plush seats around the small tables. The audience is asked for nouns, verbs, adjectives, liquids, cities, desserts, and body parts.
When the scripts are full, the actors return back to the stage. In the December 6th show, I was treated to Daisy Eagan, Bobby Cronin, Lauren Elder, Geneva Carr, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, Peter Filichia, and Steve Schonber - each possessing very different skill sets, yet each equally able to entertain in the largest and most public game of vaudevillian Mad Libs I have ever seen.
The story revolves around the murder of Philip DeBlanks, a man who left a large fortune up for grabs after he mysteriously died. Each character (who each also has a punny nickname) has their own reasons why they did or did not murder DeBlanks. And while the pre-intermission section of the story has that set plot line, strategically placed words were provided by the audience.
The actors say their lines without a hitch in their step, but it's clear which words were provided by the audience. It's also clear which area of the audience provided each word, as a pocket of especially enthusiastic laughter would break out from the people involved in the writing of that specific part of the murder mystery.
After a spattering of character debates speckled with absurd words, intermission begins and who committed the murder is just as ambiguous. The meaning of the paper in front of each audience member becomes clear, and this is where the choose-your-own-adventure part comes into play. The theater-goer once again becomes the playwright. This time, in the form of circling a character's name.
A loud and involved (on second thought, all of Villain: DeBlanks is involved) tallying off of the votes follows and the murderer is announced. The ending reflects the audience's choice.
Call Me Adam
review by Adam Rothenberg
So last week I attended the second installment of Billy Mitchell's Villain: DeBlanks at 54 Below. I am not sure there is a noun, adjective, or verb strong enough to describe just how brilliant and fun this show is! Billy has written an amazing Whodunit murder mystery, leaving out just enough details for the audience to fill in the blanks. With a rotating cast of Broadway stars, Villain: DeBlanks is a mash-up evening of murder mystery meets Adult Mad Libs.
I have seen a few of Billy's original shows and this one is by far just 1000% pure fun and laughter! For an hour straight, I had a smile on my face and lots of noise coming out of my mouth from the huge amounts of laughter being spewed.
1000% pure fun and laughter!
The particular cast I saw last week was Time Out New York's Adam Feldman, Drag legend Hedda Lettuce, and Broadway's Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, Jen Cody, Christine Pedi, Hugh Hysell, and host Heather Shisler. The level of talent on that stage was quite remarkable -- doubly so, considering the fact that the script wasn't even complete by showtime as the cast awaits for the audience participation. The way the cast tore into Billy's script and brought out the hysterics of an already funny script was unbelievable!
review of "Space Hole!" version
by David Clarke
On Sunday, Billy Mitchell's Villain: DeBlanks ended a triumphant six-month run at New York City's The Triad. The all-star cast, led by Brenda Braxton, brought the house down with Mitchell's latest script, Space Hole!.
Space Hole! is a comedic send-up of murder mystery cocooned in a well thought out blend of Lost In Space, Star Trek: The Original Series, and Spaceballs. For Sunday night's show, Braxton's Captain Zabitsh was a sensational sassy Latina. Doug Plaut's Private Stroker was a bumbling Southern hick with a helpful heart of gold. Randy Graff's Ayn Droyd was an ice-cold robot with a steely demeanor. Kelvin Moon Loh's Orin Spiring was a hapless Asian who was reminiscent of an angry Margaret Cho. Marc Kudisch's Overlord Underhand was deliciously villainous and cocky. Nancy Opel's Oletta Broadtalk was delightfully batty and brash.
For the uninitiated, Villain: DeBlanks (a riff on "fill in the blanks") is a madcap mash-up of hilarious theatrical hijinks and everyone's favorite road trip game, Mad Libs. At the top of the performance, the assembled cast mixes and mingles with the audience. Their purpose? To fill in the blanks. They ask for nouns, adverbs, adjectives, numbers, body parts, and so on, putting their faith and trust in the audience to help write a riotous comedy. Once the blanks in their script are filled in, each member of the cast returns to the stage and prepares to cold read the completed script.
As the script unfolds, magic happens when the mix of audience suggested words blend together perfectly, to create a cohesive joke from beginning to end. Also, the cast is at liberty to create their character on the fly, offer ad libs, and even break character. Needless to say, Villain: DeBlanks offers ample opportunities for comedy gold, allowing the cast to be just as tickled by the finalized script as each member of the audience.
a madcap mash-up of hilarious theatrical hijinks
As the wacky plot draws to its conclusion, there is a slight break. In this break, the audience casts their votes for who they think did in DeBlanks. A media guest, Michael Reidel at Sunday's performance, provides distraction and entertainment in the interim. The votes are counted live in front of the audience, and which version of the show's conclusion is performed all depends on who the audience selects as the murderer or murderers.
While, Sunday's performance ended the run of Villain: DeBlanks at The Triad, audiences can rest assured that they'll be able to see these shows in the future. Visit http://www.villaindeblanks.com, join their mailing list, follow them on Facebook and Twitter, and be ready to laugh your _________ (body part) off.