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On the Town with Barbara Hendel

The Toledo Blade
January 24, 2000
by Barbara Hendel





The downtown's oh-so-popular Board Room restaurant on Huron Street may seem a bit reserved on the first floor, but climb the stairs to the second level on Saturday nights and you'll never find a bored room.

Instead, from a tiny makeshift stage, the Around the Bend Players generate so much fun, humor, and energy they may well be acquired by FirstEnergy Corp.

ATBP is the improv group that has taken up residence most Saturday nights, providing an evening of fun and games that's richer than the cheesecake.

Led by Tom Hofbauer, the group comprises stand-up comedians from the old Comedy Club and actors who love the challenge of testing their talents against the vagaries of an audience that changes each week.

"It's a little like theater and a little like stand-up comedy," says the director.

"Write down a line for us," requested Mr. Hofbauer at the start of a nearly two-hour ride one recent night. Collected, the goofy lines were folded into a two-part routine made up on the spot by Mary Sobecki and Tom Kleinert.

Other players -- redheaded brothers Dave and Mark Zink plus Derek Hansen and Blaine Washington -- played off each other's antics in a series of hilarious theater games propelled by strict rules -- every reply to a question must be another question, for example, or final words of each sentence must rhyme, as the story changed, all in a tag-team format.

Mark Zink's deadpan delivery, to his own guitar accompaniment, of Amish protest songs, was another highlight, as was the creation of a Rube Goldberg-like "solar clapper," that called on the entire company to get into the act.

The show is billed as entertainment for any age or audience type. Humor is clean, quick, and -- given the juicy raw material provided by some of the area's more piquant politicians and top officials -- surprisingly kind.

It's dinner-tainment, with a menu offering some of owner-chef Kameel Ansara's best entrees. Package price is $20.95 per person. Reservations through the restaurant are required.