New generation picks up cultural satire of ’90s groundbreaking comedy

A few props are all that’s needed. A couple of chairs, a pair of umbrellas and a floor lamp.

“Don’t forget to turn the lamp on when you bring it upstage,” Adrienne Dawes says.

Playwright, actor, comedian and director Dawes is at the helm of “Doper Than Dope,” a new scripted sketch comedy show inspired by the racially groundbreaking 1990s TV hit “In Living Color.”

Opening Friday and running through Aug. 6 at the Institution Theater, the show features a dozen original sketches — part contemporary sendup of and homage to ’90s pop culture and part biting humor on race, gender and politics.

And the lamp? That’s for the opening of “Black Friends,” a satire of the ’90s hit sitcom “Friends.” And just like the television show, “Black Friends” starts with the cast hamming it up to the “Friends” theme song — but with rewritten lyrics.

“So no one told you all your friends were really black/And when you dance with them you end up looking whack,” the cast sings.

Dawes, who won an Austin Critics’ Table Award for “Am I White,” her trenchant 2014 drama about race and racial identity, conceived of “Doper than Dope” and serves as its director and producer. If the seriousness of “Am I White” brought Dawes considerable attention, she’s really more rooted in comedy. Earlier this year, for example, Dawes’ Heckle Her Productions staged “Love Me Tinder,” a musical sketch comedy show about dating in the app age.

Riffing on and paying tribute to “In Living Color” is part of her comedic legacy, Dawes suggests.

Hugely influential — and at the time controversial for its biting satire of race relations and cultural stereotypes — “In Living Color” continually challenged network officials at Fox Television during its five-season run. And yet it proved pivotal for many now-famous performers including Jamie Foxx, Jim Carrey, Chris Rock, and especially the show’s creator, Keenen Ivory Wayans, and his brother Damon, who wrote for and acted on the show.

The show embraced then-emergent hip-hop culture. It had a DJ and a dance troupe called the Fly Girls, which gave a young Jennifer Lopez her television debut.

And its imprint is still felt by today’s young performers of color. As Dawes points out, in many ways the issues illuminated on “In Living Color” remain relevant.

“We’re having the same conversations today about politics, sexuality, race and gender almost three decades later,” she says.

Dawes sent out a call for collaborators several months ago. Eight artists made the cut for a cast and writer lineup of talents from Austin’s improv, stand-up, spoken word and theater scenes. Some are veterans like star comedian Maggie Maye (she’s appeared on “Conan”) and spoken word poet Da’Shade Moonbeam.

Andie Flores, 25, on the other hand, is on an Austin stage for just a third time. And Kenah Benefield is an exuberant 19-year-old with improv training. Only one, Chelsea Bunn, is white.

Says Dawes: “When I hear theater companies and directors complain about not being able to find diverse talent in Austin — how hard it is to hire diverse leaders, how impossible it is to connect with diverse audiences, or how long it will take before we see any change — I want to say ‘but we’re already doing it right now. Here it is!’”

For performer and writer Taji Senior, 27, a show such as “Doper Than Dope” is a necessity for Austin.

“Austin is heralded as a liberal oasis, but it’s really not. It’s difficult here, there are microaggressions against you as a person of color, but it’s not talked about,” she says. “Doing a show like this is a way to have a conversation that needs to be had — and have that conversation in a way people can relate to. It’s funny.”

One sketch is a sendup of the “Adventures of Mary-Kate & Ashley” Olsen twins mystery series that finds O.J. Simpson consulting the child detectives.

“Super Mujer” spotlights a little girl who has sneaked into a child’s toy-filled bedroom in the wealthy home where her mother works as a maid.

And, yes, just like “In Living Color,” this show has Fly Girl dancers.

“I also feel like right now there’s a real need for a safe, collaborative space where so many different perspectives and unique voices could share the same room,” Dawes says.

“We need to see ourselves onstage. We need our stories, our jokes, told by us.”

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