This winter sucks, doesn’t it? This, our winter of discontent, made glorious summer by what? Definitely not Richard III. It’s just one economic catastrophe after another, political deadlock, a football coach with the loyalty of a day trader. And where in the hell did the cold weather come from, anyway?
There’s a suspected (and possibly Chinese) curse that says, “May you live in interesting times.” Whether or not it’s Chinese is irrelevant. Whether or not it’s a curse is a far more interesting question. What does one do when faced with the reality of a chaotic zeitgeist? Give in and hide under the covers? Or make a stand and do something about it? Personally, I prefer to hide under the covers. Sorry, Mom. I ain’t leaving and what’s for dinner?
Luckily, there are those with more courage. There are those who grab hold of the collective problems facing our community, and twist them—with the artistry of an “airigami” aficionado—into squeaking possibilities fit for lampooning, providing the rest of us a reason to laugh our cathartic pants off.
They are Theatre Knoxville Downtown, and their Dionysian catharsis is Forbidden Knoxville.
In its second rendition, Forbidden Knoxville is a two-act roasting of everything K-town, cooked to perfection. With its original libretto sharply written by its director, Jayne Morgan, and its musical score set wonderfully to familiar Broadway tunes by its musical director, Christopher Hamblin, Forbidden Knoxville profanes the self-aggrandized with a robust incorrigibility only appropriate for those speaking the truth. According to the Theatre Knoxville Downtown folks, the truth—for those who can handle it—is this: although Knoxville blows (a lot), it is a beautiful city populated by some of the strangest humans on the planet.
And the show makes a sound argument. By using sketches and foregoing plot, Forbidden Knoxville ruthlessly expresses what many of us are already thinking. “Be Knoxvillian,” for example, is a sultry number with characters named Low Self-Esteema, Volunteera, Conformeta, and Denyalina. “Know Your Knoxville” (pronounced “Kuh-now Your Kuh-noxville”) tells us that not only does Tennessee rank sixth in the nation in the loss of natural teeth but also the fact that Scripps is the reason for all the Starbucks in the area. “UT and the Beast” is a recently added song explaining how Lane Kiffin screwed us royally with a Trojan (Trojans, of course, being the nickname at the University of Southern California).
“TVA Rap” confirms, through a rap set to Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice Baby” (which was originally set to Queen’s “Under Pressure”), that “bullshit is a drug you can sell by the gram,” especially when it comes to “ash, ash baby.” “Ya’ll’s Mall in Halls” is a brilliant interstitial, of sorts, where shops like Guns-n-Pups and the Eternal Bank of Investment and Prayer stand side-by-side, offering anything from bitches and bullets to Tim Burchett’s Roadkill Cookbook. “Salute to Herb Moncier” tells us something many may not know, which is that Herb’s “manners are crummy but, honey [he’s] so cute,” and while he may be pedantic, he’s also a “courtroom romantic.” Honestly, I had no idea.
While sketch comedy’s success is determined by the writing, without good performers it would remain only read. Thankfully, Theatre Knoxville Downtown’s actors are brilliantly silly. There are moments when the evening felt like a raunchy church talent show, but, Lord, show me a church like this and I’ll be the first in the pew every Sunday. The cast’s courage allows for a well paced two hours. They let loose their inhibitions like a drunk glee club, leaving the audience alternately slack-jawed and gasping for breath. Where some actors prefer to perform well-rehearsed, safe choices, the actors in Forbidden Knoxville—Annie Millet, Bill Howard, Chelsea Samples, Dana Wham, Lisa Slagle, and Krisha Newport—prefer to make brave choices and rehearse as they go, a very respectable and noteworthy decision.
Forbidden Knoxville proves that though we do indeed live in interesting times, such times are less a curse and more a teleological reason for blessed laughter. But Mom, I’m still not leaving and, yes, I’m still waiting for dinner.