The house was packed Friday evening for the second installment of the Transactors Improv Company's new serial, The Professors, at the Common Ground Theatre in Durham. The serial is designed to do for the City University what TIC's City of Medicine did for the City Hospital. Thus we are introduced to six members of the faculty of the Private University of North Carolina State, referred to affectionately as PUNCS. These six characters interact with students, campus police, and others to reveal the sometimes-tumultuous relationships that crop up on campus.
Transactors veterans make up the larger segment of the team, with current co-director Dan Sipp playing Scott Weaver, the adjunct film studies professor who has a little trouble with one of his students. It seems that this student is convinced that Brad Pitt gets his roles because of his good looks, and he thinks this observation is enough to earn him a term paper on the subject. We also meet professor Jeff King, played realistically by Greg Hohn, who gives a lecture on why "Faking It" is not the best way to prepare for an acting role. King was once married to another prof, Fran Kensworth-King, strikingly played by Anoo Brod, who seems more than anything else to like Jeff for the weed he can supply her! Nancy Pekar portrays the strident but delightful Joyce Cavanaugh, poetry and physics professor, whose lecture on the first attempts at poetry of her current class is a stitch, and a lesson in how to write verse off the top of your head. Annie Zipper takes on the campus cops as her architecture professor, Lane Van Dorn, joins up with the Occupy Wall Street group on campus at PUNCS. And rounding out the six is history professor Robert Ealy, played perfectly by Steven Wamock, who is the quintessential deadpan professor who feels history is scintillating, and does not understand why everybody does not feel the same. Jennifer Evans stage manages the show.
Scene follows scene quickly as we are given slices of a day in the life at PUNCS. The campus police confront the Occupy Wall Street protestors; we get some Baby Mama Drama as a student announces to all her professors that she's pregnant; the audience plays the student body as several professors give their lectures. Some of the very best comedy comes when each of the cast takes a lead from the prior speaker to continue a lecture of his own. All in all we are given a never-ending stream of off-the-cuff humor as the troupe leads us a merry chase for a solid hour.
Transactors Improv has been around for almost a quarter-century. This reviewer has laughed long and hard at several of the group's performances, but this is the first time I have been able to catch one of their serials. The serials are different in two ways: first, they come sans music, which is a change from their regular format; second, they work exclusively in the sort-version improv format, which to my mind gives the cast very little time to reach a scene resolution. In fact, the scenes this evening seemed to reach no conclusion at all; they were merely replaced after a few moments with a different scene. Having watched this same talented cast carry an idea to full fruition, not only with comedy but with music, I must say I prefer the latter to the former. Nonetheless, for a full hour this cast kept us guessing, as the professors of PUNCS dealt with the usual and the unusual in their daily lives. This is a different kind of comedy, more like a sit-com as opposed to a musical. It is a new direction in which this cast can stretch, and it will be a stitch to watch what new developments meet the professors in episodes to come.
The Transactors are busy this holiday season, and promise new shows right through January. You can catch them at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro these next two Saturdays. On Nov. 26, TransActors for Families starts early in the evening at 6 p.m. and on Saturday, Dec. 3, TIC's Holiday Extravaganza begins at 8 p.m. If you call ahead for tickets, tell them you are enrolled at PUNCS and it will earn you a discount on your tickets! Then be sure to return to the Common Ground Theatre on Friday, Jan. 13, 2012, for Episode 3 of The Professors. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.