By Jacqueline Monahan
Matt Donnelly’s Executive Monkeys at Palms Casino & Resort
Matt Donnelly’s Executive Monkeys have found a home at The Lounge at the Palms every Wednesday beginning June 30 and running through July. The 9:00 p.m. show, produced by Emily Jillette, (yes, that's Penn's wife) features an improvisation troupe led by Donnelly, and comprised of comedians hailing from Upright Citizens’ Brigade, Second City, Improv Olympic, Peoples Improv Theatre and Improv Vegas.
Celebs in the opening-night crowd included Las Vegas vocal icon Robin Leach, Poker champion Annie Duke and her longtime beau, actor/producer Joe Reitman, former husband of the show’s celebrity guest Shannon Elizabeth. The two remain friends.
A New Jersey native, Donnelly was performing and teaching in New York City with the Upright Citizens’ Brigade and the Peoples Improv Theatre in Manhattan before moving to Las Vegas. He’s an improv veteran most recently involved with Wayne Brady’s Making $#!t Up at The Venetian; now he’s at the forefront of his own creation, leading a show that leaves the host himself wondering where it will lead.
A Video Screen for Twitter Requests
His 80-minute show is in two acts and takes place in The Lounge, a circular two-tiered room with a round stage covered by a scarlet velvet curtain, a black metal staircase which leads from one level to the next, and several walls draped in large metallic tinsel; other walls are black. Round tables cover the main floor and mezzanine sections, and the view is good from almost any vantage point. The stage holds a simple white double-entrance staircase spanning a bridge section between them.
Act One features Donnelly (who resembles a dark-haired Kewpie doll but likens himself to Fred Flintstone) and his six-person improv crew – they are the Executive Monkeys - taking Twitter requests from the audience which are then displayed on a large video screen high above the crowd.
Matt Donnelly, seated left, and Executive Monkeys
Topic requests at the June 30 kick-off included an impromptu tug of war with a metal tape measure, a series of failed suicide attempts by a comically inept whiner who enlists help from his friends, things I learned in college, including a “cool-off” between professors (which one’s the cooler, more laid-back instructor), a Catholic bishop recruiting a teen for the priesthood, the Rat Pack meeting a decidedly Brooklyn-esque Paris Hilton, pizza shop employees that use Dungeons & Dragons terminology to take orders, men discussing their disturbing Oompa-Loompa attraction, (those orange little people from Willie Wonka) and gumball machine crime.
After this segment, comedian Michael Goudeau – not one of the Monkeys - rapidly juggled three sharp Arabian style swords, (you know, the curved, thick blade that Aladdin might carry) and topped his own performance by repeating the feat while teetering around the stage on a six foot unicycle. Goudeau managed to keep the shiny blades in the air so swiftly that your humble correspondent had trouble capturing them on film. The affable entertainer even tried to catch one between his knees but had to settle for an accidental ankle clutch; better lower than higher, I’d imagine, especially for a male.
During Act Two Donnelly reappeared in a sparkly red jacket and blingy white lapel, armed with a tarot deck, interpretive books, and special guest Shannon Elizabeth. Her interview started by choosing a card from the tarot deck (Ace of Pentacles) while some of the Monkeys improvised an interpretation that had little to do with any actual Elizabeth-ology, so here are some well-known facts about the actress.
Special Guest Shannon Elizabeth
She’s appeared in several films, most notably 1999’s American Pie. Film credits also include Jack Frost, Scary Movie, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and Tomcats; she can also be seen in several episodes of That 70's Show. She’s done pictorials for both Playboy and Maxim magazines, and was among the cast of the sixth season of Dancing with the Stars, partnered with Derek Hough.
Donnelly conducted an interview with Elizabeth that covered her charity work (dog rescue), upcoming projects (she’s directing a film), and her poker playing (champion player Michael Mizrahi intimidates her). Describing poker as her "second career,” Elizabeth played in the Main Event of the 2005 World Series of Poker, and in 2007 she advanced to the semi-finals of the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship.
Shannon Elizabeth and Matt Donnelly
Elizabeth remained on stage for a whirl of lightening fast, stream of consciousness improv that included ever-changing scenarios such as Adam and Eve encountering a forbidden tomato tree, book publishers vying for manuscripts, (one was a penguin), Kirstie Alley, John Travolta, and Tom Cruise touting Scientology principals, the power of crystals, especially the one called Rape (running gag), Al Pacino and John Travolta in a showdown, a city called Chiladelphia, lemurs, Rosie Perez attempting a German accent, and female/female attraction ignited by red bracelets.
Joining the Improv Cast
The finale featured a song, composed on the spot and inspired by the most unusual job in the room, as provided by an audience member. In this case it was “P.A. (personal assistant) to an Ex-Ph.D.” accompanied by Jersey Boys cast member (and flamenco guitarist) Jason Martinez. Donnelly and gang incorporated the title into a chorus, and each member invented a rhyming verse spontaneously without missing a beat.
Jersey Boys Cast Member Jason Martinez
Due to the nature of improvisation, this particular performance won’t be repeated, nor will it be like any that come after it. Each show changes, by choice, by opinion, by idea, or simply by whim. Topics fly by like machine-gun fire; one glance away, and the gang may not be on dry ground, or Satan may have arrived carrying vegetables while seated, rotating therapists analyze anxiety as if it were a mere distraction from their gyrations.
That’s improv with the Executive Monkeys. Place all seats in their upright position and fasten seatbelts. You may not recognize your next destination. Then again, you may have been the one to suggest it.
For further information:
The Lounge at The Palms Casino & Resort
4321 W Flamingo Rd, Las Vegas
Las Vegas, NV 89103