Among local improv experts, Chicago’s Improv Olympic Theater is known for a particular approach that emphasizes forms so structured they have names: a). The Bat; b). The Deconstruction; c). The Armando; or d). The Harold.
So part of the fun in attending the Piccolo Fringe opening performance for The Reckoning (one of several traveling teams from the iO Theater) was anticipating which of those forms the group would choose. And apparently, they chose e): None of the Above. I had to check this with a couple of the crew from Theatre 99, but apparently The Reckoning simply went with a generic long-form improv approach on Friday.
It feels dumb to describe anything improvised as generic, but we’ll begin there because The Reckoning is known as much for its randomly shuffled long-form structures as it is for its performers.
Friday’s audience got 50 minutes of scene-shifting comedy based on the suggested theme “interpretive dance,” and frankly, the scene changes were tight enough that I thought the actors might be improvising off a particular series of changes. The show morphed between backstage at a dance studio, a school lunch room, an AA meeting, a giant elevator, after-school detention, and the balcony of a theater during a poorly attended ballet opening. As random as that sounds, this cast did a great job of making it feel quite connected.
Improv has always struck me as the world’s most terrifying form of composition, as it requires not only the ability to perform but the talent to create scenes and dialogue on the fly. Most of the flat (if not painful) improv shows I’ve attended were really more failures of creativity than of performance. So when a team makes something look that sharp, you know you’re watching professionals.
Holly Laurent, Beau Golwitzer, and Charlie McCrackin aren’t chopped liver, but Friday night’s standout was Eric Hunicutt, who apparently spends much of his time at iO’s Los Angeles outpost now and isn’t currently listed on the team’s Chicago roster. Hunicutt seemed equally adept at creating situations, playing off other members’ leads and getting laughs – this is comedy, after all, and not just a skills challenge. And while we’re talking about the cast, wasn’t there supposed to be a fifth member? Has the lovely Jet Eveleth gone missing?
There are only three more appearances by The Reckoning (Monday is their last), so who knows what forms they’ll trot out next. That’s reason enough to buy a ticket. —Dan Conover