The New Tortured Artist 

Theater Meets Stand-up Comedy in International Falls

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It's no surprise that Marc Maron's comedy podcast WTF is mentioned in the liner notes for International Falls, because Maron—known for his frank interviews with comedians and other performers—is a frequent exponent of the idea that comedians are twisted, fucked-up people. It's an oddly romantic notion, and the otherwise-excellent International Falls buys into it a bit too wholeheartedly.

Tim (Isaac Lamb) is a bottom-tier touring comedian; Dee (Laura Faye Smith) is a desk clerk who's read a few books on stand-up comedy. The two hook up after Tim performs at the hotel where Dee works, and they then spend a long evening sequestered in a hotel room, drinking booze and talking about their families (both are married), about comedy, and about each other.

Smith gives an impossibly natural performance as the funny-girl desk clerk who married too young, popped out a few kids, and is only now beginning to wonder about her own potential. Lamb brings an easy charm to Tim's character, subtly seeded with hints of inner turmoil, and the banter between the two is quick and comfortable.

Every now and then the show cuts to a scene with Tim at a microphone, telling jokes. The slowly deflating energy of these scenes is truly impressive: Tim's first set kills, but subsequent sets are shaky, forcing the audience to endure some of the discomfort of seeing a comedian bomb. The sinking realization that Tim isn't a very good comedian neatly parallels the audience's subtle, growing awareness that perhaps Tim isn't so happy-go-lucky after all.

While the show's pacing is deft and sure, Brandon Woolley's direction isn't without fault: He gets entirely too carried away during the show's pivotal scene, taking a plot point that's already dangerously entangled with the romantic notion of the tortured comedian and guiding it into the realm of bona fide cliché.

Despite the one problematic scene, though, International Falls is a great show, impeccably acted, smartly paced, and completely enjoyable. Theater doesn't engage with other mediums nearly often enough—a survey of a given weekend's theatrical offerings would lead us to the conclusion that TV, film, and videogames don't exist. Stand-up comedy is having a legitimate cultural moment, and it's great to see a show that so actively engages in the world around it−even if it brings a few cliché's along with it.

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