It really sucks reviewing improv shows. If the performers are slow or–worse still–unfunny, then there is nothing left to salvage. Liusually of the up-down variety, there are no directors save the audience’s laughter and the actors’ imagination, and the show changes every night depending on that audience and those collective imaginations. If the performers aren’t on top of their game, then all one can reasonably hope for is that the beer is cold. Luckily, with the exception of the inevitable unreliability of nightly improv, it’s hard to find reasons not to recommend the ensemble that the Upright Citizens’ Brigade Touring Company has brought to Charleston.
The key here is that it really is the quintessential ensemble show. The gelling of this group of (eight) comedians and performers is in plain evidence throughout. The ways in which they allow each other’s ideas to flow through a bit’s narrative, adapting and tweaking and adding for the most jiggle-joy possible; it’s tough to beat. The set-up is given by the audience (one word ideas, always shouted: “Turkeys!” “Athol Fugard!” etc.) followed by a brief monologue from one of the performers on what the subject brings to mind, from which our magical mystery tour begins.
For this night’s performance, the first act’s subject was “Space!” (one lady was obsessed with “Ecuador!” but the performers gracefully avoided hearing her.) What came out of “Space!”? Well: a guy who’s fallen from a cliff is then smothered by cement and a ten-pound sandwich; junior detectives assigned to cleaning the boss’s office, who then fight crime with their mops and extreme prejudice; and, most notably, the line “Sorry, I was wiping off the orgy.” All along the way we get skyscraper dog-piles, an impromptu marriage on a football field, babysitter spending sprees, pan-fried domestic pets, and a quasi-erotic exchange between a man and his friend’s dismembered, talking leg. Put bluntly, if you can’t find the humor in a man/dismembered-talking-leg relationship, then you sir have no soul.
In the second act, the UCB folks brought out Horatio Sanz. He was funny, and had a good bit where he was hiding a pretend dead wife in a pretend coat, but in some parts it was clear that he wasn’t on the same wave length as the other guys (and gal). Still, it was cool to see him interact with performers besides his SNL regulars, and it is just this sort Wild West, anything goes mentality that makes this group so much fun to watch.
Obviously, there will be off nights. But that’s the other great part about improv (if not of reviewing improv). It’s the ultimate Buy-The-Ticket-Take-The-Ride theatre experience. And with this UCB ensemble, it will most likely be a happy one.
UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE TOURING COMPANY • Piccolo Spoleto’s Piccolo Fringe at Theatre 99 • $15 • May 28, June 2 at 10 p.m.; May 29 at 8 p.m.; May 30 at 9 p.m.; June 3 at 10:30 p.m. • 1 hour • Theatre 99, 280 Meeting St. • 554-6060
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