Most people know Lee Ann Keple as a Burnaby-based stand up comic and the general manager of the Laff Riot Girls, but this week, Keple is better known as Bonnie Clyde, the "black widow" for hire in The Gay Mafia.
The musical comedy, written by David C. Jones, is an audience-driven mix of sketch comedy filled with mafia puns produced by the Queer Arts Society, on now through Jan. 12 at the Jericho Arts Centre in Vancouver.
The show includes the don and cast of six with names like Shay Kan "The Cheese," Haven Detta, Petty Crime and Marie Grazie Cucinotta "The Nun."
The premise is that the mafia don has decided to retire and is looking for a replacement. He has summoned his best people to compete for the title and in this case, of course, it will necessitate being the funniest of the lot.
As in theatre sports, there is an element of competition between the six actors on stage.
The audience will play a major role in creating the hilarity as it happens, by calling out the settings and objects required for each scene, as well as choosing which actor or actors will perform.
"You could come see it any number of nights and while you'll still see six people compete and one will be chosen, it's going to be different games and different improvisers each night," said Keple.
Willing audience members will also get a chance to join the cast on stage to get in on the blindfolded foam sword fight and even have a go at improv for a chance to win $10,000.
Though each night's performance will involve an unpredictable mix of comic scenes, there are a few guaranteed elements, including a slow-motion brawl and an improvised musical finale based on audience suggestions for the theme.
"David decided to ramp it up a bit," Keple said of the challenge for the actors. "We've been entertaining audiences since 1997, and we're known for being quick-witted and being able to do what's called short form or game improv, like you see on TV with Who's Line Is It Anyway? and things like that, and so David . thought this would be a good one to take on in 2013 - take us out of our comfort zone and give our audience something they can also sink their teeth into and go, 'Wow, can they do this?'"
Keple is dedicating her performance in this show to her partner and fellow comedian, Ardell Fitzpatrick, who recently underwent a double-lung transplant.
Proceeds from the Jan. 6 matinee performance at 4 p.m. will go to the Out In Schools program supporting gay and lesbian youth.
While some of the Queer Arts Society's shows are for the over-18 crowd, she said The Gay Mafia is a family-friendly show.
"Our audiences are mixed and mostly straight," she said. "We've done some bar shows downtown right in the heart of the gay village, and we tend to get a lot of gays and lesbians coming, but it's a professional troupe and we also do corporate shows, so we also pride ourselves on being accessible to everybody."
The Gay Mafia runs from Jan. 2 to 12, at 8 p.m. at the Jericho Arts Centre, at 1675 Discovery Street in Vancouver.
For tickets, call 604-224-8007, ext. 3, or visit www.queerarts.ca. mreid@ burnabynow.com