In this two-person musical improv show, performers Tara DeFrancisco and Rance Rizzutto invent an opening number based on an audience suggestion, then use that as a springboard for a handful of semirelated scenes, each of which culminates in an improvised duet. DeFrancisco is the bolder and brassier of the two, playing ditzes, bros, and new-age types with equal aplomb; the more patient and workmanlike Rizzutto undertakes the tasks of setting her up and making it all cohere. The show isn't pee-your-pants funny, but the duo has an easy and engaging platonic chemistry, and unlike many other musical improvisers I've seen, they can carry a tune and rhyme on the fly. The highly hummable melodies are supplied by piano accompanist Dave Asher. —Zac Thompson $14
Seven strapping men in swashbuckler shirts improvise a two-act Shakespearean play based on a title suggested by the audience. At the show I saw, "The Taming of the Jew" inspired the Bard's usual themes (religion, family, betrayal) and plot devices (murders, disguises, fortunes gained/lost) as well as an uncomfortably funny circumcision. Director-performer Blaine Swen, a veteran of long-form Shakespearean improv who swears they don't conspire during the intermission, has assembled a vigorous ensemble of actors and proven improvisers. Their experience doing Shakespeare flowers in the language: they relish iambic dialogue, execute perfectly timed asides, occasionally utter rhyming couplets (some hilariously forced: "Let us be quick-sa, and get to the bar mitzvah!"), and drop parodic phrases ("scurvenous knave," "midfortnight report") and well-placed anachronisms (the bar mitzvah had a DJ). Even the ending echoed the real plays: story lines resolved tidily—and uproariously. —Ryan Hubbard $14http://www.improvisedshakespeare.com/
One of iO's best ensembles, with a different opening team each week. $14
A double bill of late night improv. $5
In a city awash in improv and sketch comedy, it's heartening to find there are still performers out there eager and able to produce new variations within these well-worn genres. Not all of the pieces in this revue directed by improv virtuosos TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi are laugh-out-loud funny—though most are—but even when bits miss their mark it's because the actors are trying something difficult or new—an eccentric character, a divergent point of view. The title refers to what sets this show apart most: the performers are undressed metaphorically, displaying a vulnerability that's too rarely seen in contemporary comedy, where feelings are more often cloaked or beside the point entirely. The result is a show that not only entertains and edifies, but leaves the audience feeling lighter and less burdened. —Jack Helbig $20, $12 students
David Pasquesi and TJ Jagodowski have been doing a long-form improv show called TJ & Dave together, off and on, for 12 years. The two of them get onstage at iO and look at each other for a while until something inscrutable is triggered and they start improvising. It's like that moment in Tombstone where the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday are facing down the Clanton gang and everybody's tense but nobody knows what to do until Val Kilmer's Doc catches Billy Clanton's eye and winks at him and all hell breaks loose. Only Pasquesi and Jagodowski don't shoot each other to death. Instead they construct a series of scenes, often characterized by a quiet, cracked ordinariness, from which a quiet, cracked coherence often emerges.
Now that iO has moved into a huge new complex on Kingsbury Street, Jagodowski and Pasquesi have been granted their own space and started a company called the Mission Theater, which just opened its first revue, Trap.
Codirected by the founders, Trap seems designed to recall the Second City of the early 60s—that classic era before the institution in Old Town brightened up its shows with higher tech, louder music, and more Belushi-style freneticism. The seven cast members dress rather funereally, in black business attire. They perform on a small stage, bare except for two doors, an unglazed window, and some chairs. Though Ed Smaron provides music for the 24 sketches, it's mostly unobtrusive. The pace is relatively unhurried. And the material is almost perversely lacking in topical immediacy. Not a single Rahm bomb did I hear. "Let's tackle the small things," goes one song, and that seems to be the philosophy overall. The captain of a nuclear submarine worries about having to leave his car parked in a lot for three months. A young woman attempts to bond with her boyfriend's implacable mother. Things get very dark at times, as when a waitress befriends the wrong regular, a son pours venom into his father's ear, or—particularly—when a combat veteran gets too specific about what he did in the war. (Another song: "Not everything's gonna be all right.") But even the creepy bits tend to invoke a quiet, cracked ordinariness.
The style takes some getting used to. Come prepared not to laugh at every third word. Like TJ & Dave, Trap is built to reward patience. —Tony Adler$20
Improv teams use an audience suggestion to create interweaving story lines that result in a connected long-form narrative. $5-$14, Wednesdays free
Like many of us, Ted Geisel felt unfulfilled by his day job. Does it matter that, as Dr. Seuss, Geisel produced some of the world's most beloved picture books and introduced generations of children to the pleasures of reading? For the sake of his young audience, Dr. Seuss had to keep his drawings simple and his color palette limited. But before he'd gone to work as a commercial illustrator, Geisel had trained as a fine artist. So late at night, he painted. He experimented with color and style and more adult themes. He hung his "midnight paintings" in his house in La Jolla, California, but didn't want them released into the world while he was still alive. Continue reading >>