REVIEW: Back to the Workshop or Everything’s Fine

Last night’s performance of the Brave New Workshop’s latest revue, “Back to the Workshop: or Everything’s Fine” began with an acknowledgement: Yes, water is leaking from the ceiling in the middle of the theater, right in front of the stage, into a tub.  “We are painfully aware,” showrunner and emcee Caleb McEwen declared, “despite multiple attempts at fixing the issue, nothing is working.”  There could be no metaphor more apt to describe our current reality.  As attempts at going back to the office sputter and institutions continue to fail us, seeing–and then promptly pretending to ignore–a steady flow of water falling from the ceiling at a comedy show about returning to normal was peak 2022.

Everything is most certainly not fine(!), but the Brave New Workshop is my favorite place to bring humor and lightness to the crazy world we all have to deal with.  After having to take so much time off, the BNW team was able to mine the insanity of the last two years to produce some of the best material I’ve seen from them in years.  Many of the sketches center around attempts at return-to-work and how much the pandemic has affected us all in different ways.  Never one to shy away from difficult issues, other sketches served as a platform to highlight ways in which LGBTQ and Black people have fared the past few years.  Not all of these more serious sketches could end with a laugh, but I respect the decision to provide cast members with the opportunity to artistically express themselves in ways meaningful to them.

I don’t think I’ve ever not recommended a BNW show, however, this is one you truly do not want to miss.  I say this given that Caleb always begins the show imploring the audience to grab a drink from the bar, because “the more you drink, the funnier we get!!”  While masks are now optional at all Hennepin Theater Trust venues, I wore mine during the entire performance, and thus didn’t get the chance to follow this advice, but I still absolutely loved the show completely sober.

After the first attempt to return to the stage ended in multiple cases of COVID-19 among the cast (because 2022!), Taj Ruler remains on the injured reserve list.  Her understudy, Katie McEwen, apparently had only about four hours of prep time before going onstage and did an absolutely wonderful job.  Just like the water dripping from the HVAC, you can really only laugh at how difficult it is to get anything done these days in the way you would like to.  If they haven’t already, though, the BNW probably needs to take out an insurance policy for Lauren Anderson; she is the reliably glistening star whose ability to evoke a laugh with the slightest nuance of comedic delivery is undeniably irreplaceable.

Back to the Workshop or Everything’s Fine is at the Brave New Workshop Comedy Theatre through August, 6 2022. Tickets start at $35.