Improv Institute | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Improv Institute 

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At first glance the Improv Institute looks a lot like a Second City knockoff. The same round-backed bentwood chairs, the same essentially empty stage (with a couple of doors along the back wall), the same white-male-dominated troupe--three white guys and one woman--playing many of the same old Second City characters: bickering couples, goofy blue-collar types, corrupt but charming city workers. Unlike Second City, the Improv Institute has been a major proponent of improv for improv's sake since 1984. The institute's resident company--Jack Bronis, Evan Gore, Tom Hanigan, and Patricia Musker--believe absolutely and completely in the power of improvisation; their shows are fully improvised from start to finish. Every night they begin by filling four notebook pages with the audience's answers to oddball questions like "What traits do you like least about the people you came to the show with tonight?" and then for the next 50 minutes or so, this four person troupe improvises scene after scene after scene more or less based on these suggestions, displaying an amazing range and versatility. Still, I prefer the second half of the show, when the troupe performs a death-defying exhibition of Viola Spolin's more difficult improv games, including one in which all the improvised lines must be questions and another in which the scene is created backward from a suggested last line. I've seen other, lesser improvisers cynically use these games as a kind of show extender, and their lack of commitment inevitably leads to lackluster performances. The Improv Institute Players perform with such finesse and egoless joy it's infectious. I could watch them play for hours. Improv Institute, 2319 W. Belmont, 929-2323. Open run: Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 8 and 10:30 PM. $ 10. A special New Year's Eve show on Thursday, December 31, starts at 9:30 PM (hors d'oeuvres service begins at 8:45 PM); the $30 ticket price includes a party, food, champagne, and the Relative Obscurity singing group.

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