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FROGMEN SURFACE

Gowanus comedy troupe bubbles with laughs in former Park Slope bathhouse

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Rumor has it that the Brooklyn neighborhood called Gowanus was named by a local tradesman who would coax his recalcitrant donkey across the canal by urging the animal to "go on, ass." One cannot help but suspect that this perhaps apocryphal individual would be greatly amused by the antics of the Frogmen of the Gowanus.

This smart-ass theater group performing in the Geloscopic Theatre at the newly re-opened Brooklyn Lyceum presents the kind of tongue-in-cheek, kiss my you-know-what kind of humor that has made Brooklynites famous from the Borscht Belt to Broadway. (The theater is named for "geloscopy," the art of divining the future based on laughter.)

Their current offering, which plays for two more Fridays, is a series of comedy sketches that begins with an irate actor banging a two-by-four over the head of an audience plant whose cell phone goes off, and ends with a disappointed lover coming to terms with his anatomical "Best Friend."

For those who still haven’t gotten the picture, other vignettes include an Argentinean shampoo developer trying to impress her befuddled chemists with the dignity and urgency of their work; two men at a bar discussing their love life and uttering profundities like, "Men are from Mars; women are from Gowanus," and "My fear of emotional solicitude threatens to engulf my spirit"; and a glimpse of male bonding at the urinals.

There’s also a running joke featuring a young nerd bragging about the ticket for a big game he has in his pocket, which leaves one actor face-to-face with well, let’s just say this is one show you gotta see for yourself.

If any of this leads you to believe you should leave the kids at home, you’re probably right. (Unless your kids are over 16, in which case they’ll be able to clue you in on the finer points.)

Eric Richmond, who bought the Lyceum back in 1994 and has been renovating it ever since, says he found his actors by putting a sign up on the Lyceum gate. The turnout he got would have made Florenz Ziegfeld turn green with envy.

The 11 actors who make up the Frogmen of the Gowanus have all mastered the essentials of comedy - originality, impudence, shameless honesty, insanity - and of course, the perfect timing that makes it all work.

Their sketches are a collaborative effort. Richmond, who calls himself a "theater aficionado" and "actor wannabe," modestly says his only contribution is, "I help vote," when there is some discussion about a particular sketch.

The Brooklyn Lyceum (aka Public Bath No. 7) opened in 1910 as the largest indoor pool in the United States. Today it is mostly a drafty shambles with a small, renovated area that has become the Geloscopic Theatre with the Well You Never Know (WYNK) Cafe in the lobby space. (The cafe sells hot and cold beverages, pastries and postcards with Brooklyn scenes.) But Richmond and his Frogmen have big plans.

For the immediate future they’re going to present a new series of sketches every month starting in May. Also beginning in May will be live music in the Geloscopic Theatre every night from 5 pm to 7 pm. But eventually, Richmond and the Frogmen hope to make the Lyceum into an all-encompassing arts center, with dance, theater, film, music and art exhibits.

"I’ll bet what the locals really want is a place like a medieval town square - somewhere that has a play on one night, an art show on a second and a public hanging on a third," said Richmond.

Although the hanging proved to be illegal, Richmond settled for original one-act plays, short and full-length plays, independent film projects, and any other creative works that come to life in Brooklyn. Richmond welcomes artists of all stripes to present their ideas.

In the meantime, the Frogmen have been performing to full houses drawn by fliers and word-of-mouth, occasionally even turning away an unfortunate few.

If you ask this writer, some of those big guys on the other side of the river had better start watching their box offices.

 

"The Frogmen of the Gowanus: Sketch Comedy Gowanus Style" will be performed at 8 pm on April 20 and April 27. Tickets are $15. The Brooklyn Lyceum is located at 227 Fourth Ave. at President Street. For reservations, call (718) 857-4816. For more information, visit www.gowanus.com on the Web.

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