In some alternate timeline, Siren Theater owner and Aces member Shelley McLendon is a celebrity DJ, and she never deigns to make us laugh. However, from Lionel Richie's "All Night Long" as a pre-show ambiance-setter to the always welcome insertion of a perfect Jock Jams track near the show's conclusion, Portland's sketch comedy favorites the Aces have all possible details dialed in—right down to the correct scene-setting tunes.
Their latest show Lives of the Party runs a gamut of inventive set-ups—people dragged into musicals against their will, Blazers game "Kiss Cam" victims, a socially anxious octopus and starfish pair at a party, etc.—tied together with seamless scene transitions à la sketch comedy TV series like Wonder Showzen or Mr. Show. The Aces do it without camerawork and with a modest number of props—though there's a scene-stealing starfish costume in the mix.
The Aces are so beloved for their animal impressions that they put together a whole show of animal sketches in 2016. But Lives of the Party has one of Fetters' best animal characters yet: a tender elder dog that is full of surprises for his workaholic-from-home owner.
Fetters impression of a dog worked on such a level that we not only laughed, but began to have concerns that the show would take an Old Yeller turn, as they repeatedly returned to Fetters' shaky-leg canine adventures. As a critic, I believe this city is best served knowing what happens to the dog, and I just want all sketch-curious readers to know: that fantasy dog is fine.
Leaving the rest of the show's mystery intact, we can only applaud the Aces for another finely written and executed show. Both McLendon and Fetters are cool comedians who—much like rock and rollers the Ramones or the Strokes—probably wouldn't put up with a critic's attempts to analyze their work. But it's worth noting that a large percentage of the duo's previous shows involved confident, worldly characters—at least one revolved around swingers hosting an orgy. It's hard not to see the influence of our anxious and insecure world onstage, though there isn't a whisper of current events.
Lives of the Party celebrates ten years of shows from the Aces and over that time the pair have fine-tuned their performances into beautiful, short-attention-span weaves of rolling gags that circle back and land perfectly. Both always credit much of their show timing to director Loren Hoskins and the Aces' longtime prop master Marshall Bradley.
Portland doesn't have much of a sketch comedy scene. And what it does have is largely held aloft by the Siren Theater, which hosted three years of the Portland Sketch Comedy Festival—drawing comedians nationally and from Canada—before the pandemic sent all venues into a very unromantic Sleeping Beauty mode. We're excited about the festival's return in July.
In a city mostly known for stand-up, where the up-and-coming energy seems focused on improv, the Aces are a unique force of creative comedy in this city. They deserve praise for their excellently written scripts and powerhouse performances that clock-in at a refreshing, no-intermission-necessary 60-75 minutes.