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Updated Monday, November 19, 2012 at 01:31 PM

The Habit: high-speed comedy with multiple storylines | Comedy review

By Michael Upchurch
Seattle Times arts writer

The Habit’s new evening of sketch comedy is only an hour long. But it feels like 30 shows speeded up, interlaced and rolled into one. Even within individual sketches, a crazy logic-blurring velocity takes over.

That courtroom melodrama — it’s so compressed, it feels trash-compacted!

That performance of “Hamlet” in Braille — how can it keep up with the play’s body count?

But it does, it does … until 10 seconds later, when it’s over.

Formed at the University of Washington in 1996, The Habit won a following in Seattle over the next six years, peaking with a “best of” show that had a five-week run at the Bathhouse Theater in 2002. Then they vanished from the scene for close to a decade.

They resurfaced last year with a terrific lineup of all-new material. And they’ve done it again with their latest frenzied concoction. The cast, this time, is down to five performers: John Osebold, Jeff Schell, Mark Siano, David Swidler and Luke Thayer. But the performance is classic Habit all the way.

Narrative strands — in no particular order — include a sauntering cigarette-smoking bumblebee, some oddly squeamish would-be terrorists, a James Bond who’s a steel-nerved know-it-all and a Sherlock Holmes pushed to the brink by his skeptical, jeering friends.

Things start off at breakneck pace and accelerate from there. The faster they go, the more mixed up they get. (The show is “rewound” from time to time, in various ways, to give you a second glance at what you might have missed.)

The performers have the crack precision needed to make the thing fly. But none of it would work if Noël Parkinson weren’t equally on the mark with her lightning-fast sound effects and lighting.

On the rare occasions when Parkinson takes a break from the action, Osebold serves as a whole sound effects factory unto himself, whether he’s “being” a trumpet or triggering a nuclear explosion. (The troupe does seem to have apocalyptic mayhem on its mind, this go-round.)

Thayer, as the stenographer in that courtroom melodrama, does brilliant drag. (His serial killer isn’t bad either.) Schell’s bumblebee looks more louche than you’d think possible. Siano, as always, nails the smoothie characters, whether suave (Bond) or crass (an M.D. volunteering with “Doctors Without Priorities”). And Swidler can make you laugh just with his over-the-top line delivery.

Things occasionally get raunchy (notably in a “history porn” sketch), but mostly the emphasis is on scaling the heights of absurdity.

Note: Don’t alert the management about Adele’s megahit “Rolling in the Deep” being played over and over again before the show starts. It serves a purpose.

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com

ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCES

The Habit

8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays through Dec. 1, with additional shows Nov. 29 and Dec. 2, Bathhouse Theatre, 7312 W. Green Lake Drive, Seattle; $17 (800-838-3006 or www.thehabitcomedy.com).


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