Dawn Toddy | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Dawn Toddy 

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A little more than a month ago, the much ballyhooed improvisational theater troupe Ed opened their late-night run at the Famous Door Theatre with one of the most dreary and depressing fully improvised shows--about a theater having trouble attracting an audience--I'd ever seen. So imagine my surprise when, last Friday night, I saw the same six-member cast (four actors and two musicians), now appearing at Facets Multimedia, create a rich, resonant, very funny hour-long improvisation complete with interesting, three-dimensional characters and an almost linear storyline. (This time it was about a mousy young woman who gets no respect at home befriending a gifted but lonely eight-year-old boy.) How do I account for the difference? Well, for one, it's improv: a difficult, unpredictable art under the best of circumstances, and even the most seasoned improvisors are likely to flop far more often than their script-memorizing brethren. For another, there's Ed director Jim Dennen's innovation of putting the musicians in the mix. On opening night at Famous Door violinist Greg Hirte led the show into the dumps with a series of minor-key tunes, but in the intervening weeks he and guitarist John Keeney seem to have become comfortable ad-libbing with the actors--adding just the right something to the evening without taking so much focus it queers the show for everyone else. Finally, I'm convinced Ed has a chronic case of press-night jitters. Judging by the blistering reviews they received when Filmdome opened two summers ago, that show's opening was a disaster; three weeks into the run the work was miraculous. Mark my words: the next time I review an Ed show, I'm going any night but press night. At Facets Multimedia, 1517 W. Fullerton, 800-337-4697. Through January 21: Fridays-Saturdays, 9 PM. $8.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Suzanne Plunkett.

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