GARDEN CITY — Let’s cut straight to the chase: Pickleville Playhouse has a gem on their hands. With their recurring character Juanito Bandito, Pickleville has the unique ability to create original, sketch-comedy style shows full of improvisation, music, and humor.
Boasting over four original Juanito productions, Juanito Bandito: The One with the Monkey—written by T. J. Davis, Derek Davis, Jay Richards, Andy King, Tony Carter, and Jordan Todd Brown—is no exception. The story focuses on Juanito’s desire to transition from a Western gunslinger to a high-profile rapper. Unfortunately, he realizes that most rappers have already made the change from criminal to musical artist, so instead of falling into the ever-growing sea of non-originality, Juanito decides he needs a shtick. So, naturally, he finds a dancing monkey. It’s not the most engrossing story, but it has just the right amount of skeleton storytelling to keep the show moving along.
But this is not what made the show a success. What makes this show a delight is the cast. Comedy can be more difficult than drama in many instances. In a show like Juanito, the comedic stylings can pose significant challenges. Working as an ensemble, the cast allowed the audience the ability to laugh—and to laugh as long as they wanted. It’s key in a show that exists solely as a vehicle for jokes; this style of theatre just gives spectators the chance to laugh. Giving and taking from each other, the cast created an enjoyably funny night of theatre.
T. J. Davis played the title role of Juanito Bandito with flair and a certain touch of welcome pomp. He knew what he was doing and he did it well. Davis fed off the energy of the audience as well as his cast mates, allowing them ample time to make improvisational decisions, which greatly affected the success of this production. In one instance, Davis brought into play the new Jurassic World film as part of an improvised song the other cast members sang to him as part of his retirement party. There was clear evidence of that critical give-and-take in improv as they listened to each other, adding interesting choreography and word choices which added to the hilarity of this original production.
Jordan Todd Brown (as Magnus) played Juanito’s angry, but well-mannered manager. Brown crafted a character that was memorable and engaging. Chester the Monkey, (played by Thomas Belliston) never had a single line in the show. However, his body language and surprisingly believable simian movement sometimes made me forget that he was actually a human playing a monkey. Belliston crouched around for the majority of the evening, and occasionally tossed in some difficult front and back-flips which demonstrated his evident athletic ability as a performer.
Rosa Gardner (as Darcy) had just the right amount of innocence and charm that worked well for her character. Taralee Larsen (as Coco) was matched with care against Ray Seams (as Peitra) and Tony Carter (as Amos). All three played key roles in the production, feeding off of each other’s improvisation and unique ideas quickly and simply, leaving me wishing the show would go on.
Special mention must be made to Braden Rymer who played the piano accompaniment throughout the show (sometimes playing along with a rhythmic backing track). Rymer effortlessly followed the cast as they improvised songs and added a feeling of old-timey vaudeville theatre to the evening.
In all, if you’re planning a trip to Bear Lake—or if you’re itching to have a unique theatre experience here in Utah—pack a lunch and see Juanito and his friends in a wonderfully humorous evening of theatrical comedy and improvisation.