Sirens: Straight to Video; The Claudia and Deb Show | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Sirens: Straight to Video; The Claudia and Deb Show 

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SIRENS: STRAIGHT TO VIDEO, at Donny's Skybox Studio, and THE CLAUDIA AND DEB SHOW, at Donny's Skybox Studio. The Sirens' new improv effort--inspired by audience minimonologues shot before the show--doesn't offer much extra bang for the logistical buck. Coordinating live and taped, onstage and on-screen rhythms can't be easy yet offers little that simpler "suggestion mechanisms" don't. Still, this labor-intensive strategy has the potential to foster a profound player-spectator relationship.

The encounter between the gestalt-self of the troupe and the "other" of a real but approximate ego is an often overlooked but crucial component of good improv. That's why the most durable kick-start techniques are the Armando Diaz-style monologue, where the player stands in for the audience, and just dragging a patron onstage. There's no ground so fertile as an actual person, and here the distance of video reproduction tends to crystallize rather than blur the performers' inevitably caricatured takes on their targets. It's not a bad formula for funny, and the seasoned Sirens have poise, charisma, and wit to spare. On opening night the intercutting of audience footage with the onstage action was often rocky or abrupt, acting sometimes as a chute, sometimes a ladder for the intrepid troupe. But under Lillian Frances's capable direction, it seems they'll work out the bugs before long.

On the same stage a little later in the evening, Claudia Wallace and Deb Downing offer a grab bag of improvisations, sketches, monologues, and songs. Most of the scripted material is gently goofy, more the stuff of smiles and nods than outright guffaws, but it's solidly constructed. The depth of the performers' rapport (and talent) is more apparent when they improvise: both have futures in film if they want them, as their on-the-fly character work is a calm, confident match for many an actor's hyperrehearsed best. Once sunk into the roles they've discovered, they tease out the nuances the old-fashioned way: with strong (but not overdone) decisions on the characters, consistent physical and vocal inflections, and a preference for emotional realities over empty gamesmanship.

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