Freewheelin’ Theatre’s rough ’n’ tumble, anarchic debut

    While Freewheelin’ Theatre Company, a new troupe to Louisville, designed its “Fromage! The River City Comedy Festival” as an evening of live theater from local and touring performers, the reason for attending the festival is the company’s one-act comedy “Lester and Louie Save the World.”

    After sitting through some mediocre improv and standup comedy, “Fromage” began to smell like leftover Limburger in a clown’s shoe last Friday. Guest comedian J.T. Smith had nice Steven Wright-like delivery but weak material. (“It ain’t easy gettin’ laid when you got an STD.”) The Indicators’ improv skits recalled “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” — which rarely amuses me.

But Freewheelin’ saved the evening. In “Lester and Louie Save the World,” Justin Dobring, who has studied at Second City, stomped onto the stage as Lester, in denim overalls, a cap and clown nose. His intimidating physicality smacked the audience upside the head. (Imagine Henry Rollins doing vaudeville.) Right off the bat, Dobring had the entire audience pledging allegiance to him and the madness he was conjuring.

That madness escalated with Dobring introducing us to his partner, Louie, who happens to be a brown, metal, folding chair that Lester believes is a person. (The chair gave such a lively performance we came to believe it, too!) Rachael Dobring (also an alum of Second City, and Justin’s wife) appears as an angel who assists Lester and Louie in their mission to fill a mason jar with laughter.

But, like Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon, Lester and Louie aren’t happy clowns: They’re sad tramps, confused souls tromping around looking for answers. The gravely serious, yet sweet philosophical undercurrent to Lester’s surrealist rant elevated this performance to Peter Brook’s ideal of the “rough” theater, which jolts the audience out of complacency.

I laughed so hard my face still ached as I drove home.