‘Smellin’ Up the Den!’ A Co-Production of Red Knight Productions and Port City Playhouse

Red Knight Productions met its goal to design and perform Smellin’ Up the Den! as “a silly show” enabling audiences to “laugh at how ridiculous the world is,” as Director Scott Courlander wrote in his program notes.

Michael Cartwright, Katie Courlander, and Justus Hammond.  Photo by Eric Zitz.
Michael Cartwright, Katie Courlander, and Justus Hammond. Photo by Eric Zitz.

Smellin’ Up the Den! is a sunny way for adventurous souls to move away from the television or put down their tablets and get out of the house with some friends and try some of the beer at Port City Playhouse.

With the Red Knight troupe’s Smelllin’ Up the Den!, nothing is done in moderation. This is a pretty fast-paced evening meant for adults; no kiddies please. And hey, don’t we all need an evening out for some foolishness at times. No wallowing in deep sub-text; just escape with some beyond the usual barbs and targets.

The evening’s entertainment is about one-hour with 26 or so comedy sketch skits connected with well-placed transition music from the Superland Stage Band and the clear sense that the six Red Knight performers are working to give the audience a happy time. The Red Knight six-member ensemble includes Michael Cartwright, Katie Courlander, Scott Courlander, Jonas David Grey,  Justus Hammond and Nick Hitchens. Know that the writers of Smellin’ Up the Den!, both Scott Courlander and David Juliano, benefited from performing with the Upright Citizens Brigade which was fertile ground for the likes of Amy Poehler.

Given the state of the real world lately, bits of sophomoric humor, seasoned with selected adult language, well, seemed right to me the other night. Add that the tickets prices are affordable and the Port City Playhouse is a couple minutes from the Village of Shirlington, a leisurely walk from the condos of Fairlington and Park Fairfax, and an easy drive from downtown Alexandria.

Too many details for each sketch would ruin it for you. The batting average for “hits and misses” is pretty decent. Sure, there are some eye-rolling groaners, not every skit is crisply accomplished while some short skits may be tacky, but they are quickly forgotten as the next new thing comes rolling before the eyes and ears.  But, you know – so what? It doesn’t matter. The energy is way high, as is the anticipation for what will happen next.

First a big tip-of-the hat to Director Scott Courlander and Sound Designer Aaron Fensterheim for a very effective build of pre-show music, along with natty transition music between the sketches. The pre-show music is a collection of The Lonely Island tunes. The Red Knight team used tunes with titles such as “Dick in a Box,” “Natalie’s Rap,” “Lazy Sunday,” and others to put the audience in the right frame of mind.

The comic skits are a jaunty list of choices. A skit depicting Jesus and Hitler meeting-up as WW II nears its end is one of those little comic pieces with real poignancy, not only from the premise, but the way it is performed. A piece about nerds fighting over who was more powerful; Harrison Ford as Hans Solo or Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones is a big smile-maker for anyone aware of how we often can make fictional characters “be” real.

There is a parody of a TV medical ad about herpes featuring Katie Courlander that is priceless. Her ability to appear so straight, look so sweet, be so petite, so “girl-next-store” and then just to nail the skit. [Watch it here]. Her performance as an urban rapper with lyrics and movement hit the deep ball. A sharp bit about uttering words that should remain silent, again with Katie Courlander, was a hoot.

In  Smellin’ Up the Den! cartoon character Charlie Brown has some rather odd parents. No way the audience couldn’t chuckle at a sketch about a family that didn’t understand about the death of their father. The bit was replete with grand word play and physical double-takes and freezes. A twist on heart-throbs Romeo and Juliet would have given the Bard himself some smiles; well, after a few drinks. Some recurring scenes of a doctor testing for reflexes became stale after the second sighting. A video of a steam-punk Big Brother that looped through the evening had a great premise even if the execution was not spot-on.

There were plenty more comedy bits that you will have to see for yourself and your sense of humor.

OK, one last of the 26 skits to mention: there is a skit that provides the rationale for the title, Smellin’ Up the Den! Best to hear it from the Red Knight folks directly to decide your own take-away – but, my-of-my!

Port City Playhouse described Smellin’ Up the Den! as, “an hour-long whirlwind of hysterical vignettes enlivened by words that cannot be used in a newspaper or on non-cable network television.” That is pretty much on the mark.

So, let us praise Port City and the Red Knight folks for this collaboration of Smellin’ Up The Den. Who says that the suburbs have to be stodgy? For those with a Fringe show outlook or those who are part of a band of comedy sketch-loving brothers and sisters, please do partake.

Running Time: 60 minutes, with no intermission.


Smelling Up the Den! plays through January 31, 2015 at Port City Playhouse – 1819 North Quaker Lane, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets, purchase them at the box office beginning an hour before the performance, or purchase them online.

Note: Recommended for adults 18 and over.

Red Knight Productions’ website.


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David Siegel
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on DC Theater Arts, ShowBiz Radio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with the American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.


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