Recommended *** In the seconds before this show began, I looked down at my ticket and once more read the catchy title. I tried to figure out some deeper meaning behind the words but quickly lost my train of thought when two imposing figures stepped out from behind the curtain and graced the stage. Nope. Nothing figurative here. The title of this show could not have been any more literal. The two giants introduced themselves as Scott and Mark Piebenga. Without skipping a beat, they went on to make sure the audience knew exactly how to say it. After Scott played dumb with several wrong pronunciations, Mark finally set things straight. It’s pronounced Pee-bing-uh. And the audience would not soon forget it as the name straight out of comedic heaven was given the breath of life repeatedly as a runner over the length of the show. Before the opening shenanigans ended, I couldn’t help but think that the two brothers on stage looked like clothed flamingos. As if we were on the same wavelength, the brothers began to flap their arms and strut rhythmically across the stage while chanting their name of glory.
When the ritual was complete, the lights went out. After their return, it momentarily seemed that sanity had been reinstated. Scott and Mark sat side by side while the sounds of a crowded town hall in session flooded the theatre. A calming sense of normalcy set in. But of course it was not meant to be. The two strutting flamingos had not lost any of their savagery. They proceeded to spend the next few minutes trading insults about the current mayor. When speaking amongst themselves came to be too tame, they brashly yelled at the phantom mayor before being quieted by other phantoms. Like any respectable town hall, they finally got their turn to speak. Their requests were normal at first but old habits never die and Scott spewed venom in hardly any time at all. “Maybe if you let me divert water to my koi pond!” He bellowed, as Mark had to hold him back. This was the first truly memorable line of the evening. There would be many more.
The next sketch took advantage of the duo’s unique features. Scott, a bald, bespectacled chap, was cast as a middle-aged carny with a troubled past. Mark, a gangly blonde, was cast as a young bloke apparently out on the town with no parental supervision. It didn’t take long for Mark’s character to lose his innocence and excitement for the thrill of a roller coaster. Scott’s character quickly divulged startling information not only about his own life-six months off for therapeutic healing- but also about the ride itself. “I try to think it’s just a roller coaster, and not a damn vengeful beast that wants young blood.” Mark’s character finally backed out and Scott’s character breathed a sigh of relief for not having to dig out another severed limb from the gravel below.
The next sketch was the first of three installments. It cast Mark as a relaxed wife out on the porch with a magazine and Scott as a pacing husband seeking revenge against the neighbor for a perceived slight. It didn’t take long to realize that Scott was all bluster and no gumption. This didn’t affect Mark in the least. In fact, he seemed to find all this talk of bloodshed to be strangely erotic. “Oh yeah, you gonna teach him a lesson?” Mark teased. Scott responded with trepidation. “I’m all for busting skulls but I need a La Croix first.”
The most memorable sketch of the show cast Scott as a father set to meet his son’s teacher (Mark) for conferences. Mark gushed about how Scott’s son is very influential and independent. But not in a good way. “How so?” pressed Scott. “Well, he’s a little like Mussolini”, Mark responded. In time, it was revealed that Scott’s son is nothing more than a Damien-esque sociopath with a need for playground domination. “How have I not heard about this before?” Scott pondered. Mark went up and looked out the window before his fearful retort. “I’ve sent many letters out. I think your son and his cronies (the muscle club) may have someone in the administration in their back pocket.”
The rest of the sketches performed were wildly diverse and innovative. One cast Scott as a son-in-law searching for the perfect luggage for a family trip, while Mark looked menacingly on as a “macabre salesman.” Mark went on to recite five terrible deeds that he would never do. The last concerned freeing a gorilla from its cage so “A Storm of Limbs” could rain down upon the ground. Another cast Scott and Mark as two high school loners trying to connect in Model UN club. “The chair would look favorably on friendship”, Mark added to close out the scene. Another hit was the last installment of the running gag which concerned the lazy wife and the befuddled husband. Finally, Scott had come to his senses and decided he would reign terror on his noisy neighbor another day. “Oh, we’ll have them over. But we’re not serving the nice roast. I’m standing my ground”, Scott finished.
The show ended the way it began. With the Piebenga bros dishing out some more laughs off of the ingenious comedy gold that is their namesake. They strode confidently across the stage while quickly entering and exiting many arenas of life where a Piebenga may be. “You performed well in surgery today Dr. Piebenga” Mark reflected. “I’m not Dr. Piebenga. I’m Mr. Piebenga. And I had a blast.” So did I.
The Piebenga Plumbing brothers show is expertly directed by Mike Brunlieb. “A Storm of Limbs” unique blend of physical comedy, witty lines, and mind-altering sketches can be seen at iO Chicago, located at 1501 N. Kingsbury on Mondays at 8 p.m.from June 13 through the 27th. Tickets are $12.00 call 312-929-2401