...And the Horse You Rode in On 

One side effect of living under an inept and despicable political administration is that sometimes it seems like no jab at the Bush regime is too easy, no joke too obvious to inspire derisive collective amusement. (Yeah! He does look just like a monkey!) Sketch comedy troupe the Tragedies bank on this sympathy in their newest sketch show, ...And the Horse You Rode in On, a series of sketches lampooning contemporary America.

I use the term "lampooning" advisedly, as it evokes a slightly dated style of satiric comedy. This sums up the experience provided by the Tragedies: The eight-person ensemble promises that their show is "well calculated to provoke those 'standing-around-waiting-to-be-offended' mental behemoths we call the Homo sapiens," but it's hard to imagine anyone being genuinely provoked by this material, because the approach they take isn't particularly challenging. Sure, they drop a few F-bombs, but for the most part, this is standard pop-culture parody, aimed at the same things that every self-appointed pop-culture critic aims at, executed with varying degrees of success in 90 minutes' worth of sketches.

A few of these never should have made it to production—one, for example, about a New Age post office employee, actually includes the line, "I have GOT to move out of Portland," like there's some kind of city-wide epidemic of hippie-dippery that's even reached federal employees. It's the kind of joke someone who doesn't live here would make about the city. For the most part, though, the acting is quite good across the board, and there are a few genuinely surprising, funny moments.

The show is ultimately held back by the conventionality of its underlying premises: The internet is fucked up. Pop culture is fucked up. Consumerism is fucked up. Maybe I'm too comfortably entrenched in the digital era to respond to humor attacking a status quo I take for granted—given that I checked my MySpace messages on the Village Ballroom's wireless network during intermission, immediately before they performed a sketch parodying MySpace, this is very possible—but the heavy-handed, "Whatever happened to three-dimensional reality?" punchline felt dated and unsophisticated, and it bogged down what was otherwise a very funny, astute sketch; much as that "kids these days!" sensibility bogged down what could have been a very funny, astute show.

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