Four Humors' We Gotta Cheer Up Gary features a trio of "licensed cheerologists" (Jason Ballweber, Mike Fotis, and Ryan Lear) who promise to infuse each client with a burst of joy in just a few minutes. Obviously that's not enough time for the kind of therapy that will dig down to the source of discomfort, but it might be enough to inspire a quick grin if the joke is stupid enough or if the pratfall is goofy enough.
The jumpsuited cheerologists are used to working one-on-one, so at the beginning of the show they're a bit taken aback to discover that they're confronted with dozens of Garys — as many Garys, in fact, as will fit on the stage of the Southern Theater. Audience members are confined to that space after being given "Gary" nametags.
Fortunately, in We Gotta Cheer Up Gary the trio have more than mere minutes to work with: It's more like a full hour for this show, which comes to the company's hometown after a successful run in last year's Cincinnati Fringe Festival. It's a very Fringe-like piece, rough and ready with just a few key props: a rubber chicken, a ukulele, a double-ended dildo, and not much else.
The cheerologists aren't particularly cheerful themselves. As the play opens, they're informed by their lab-coated supervisor (Dario Tangelson, the show's director) that someone's getting fired tomorrow unless they are able to achieve the improbable feat of cheering the full contingent of Garys.
It's sobering news, especially when added to the cheerologists' personal challenges: Fotis is stressed about his son's relationship, and Lear is beginning to have doubts about his fiancée's fidelity. (On the phone: "I love you so much! Um, are you slapping two pieces of meat together?")
Part of the shtick is that these aren't the most original performers, and the extent to which you are personally cheered by the show will depend on how amused you are by intentionally stilted improv, flubbed magic tricks, and dated jokes ("Here's one from the 1920s. What does an orphan have in common with a bottle of champagne?"). The best bit in the show is a magic performance that involves a silent Ballweber conjuring a distinctly subdued razzle-dazzle while Herb Alpert's "A Taste of Honey" plays on cassette.
A strange, sad interlude involving a rigged umbrella, a spoken-word performance, and a moody Eurythmics cover closes the show on a peculiar note. Many of my fellow audience members certainly walked away cheered — throughout the evening, the laughter had been loud and long — but I just felt indifferent. Well, I guess cheering 50 people at once was a pretty tall order.
IF YOU GO:
We Gotta Cheer Up Gary
1420 S. Washington Ave., Minneapolis
Through April 22; 612-326-1811