Two White Guys and Improv Survivor | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Two White Guys and Improv Survivor 

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TWO WHITE GUYS, at Improv-Olympic, and IMPROV SURVIVOR, at ImprovOlympic. ImprovOlympic has practically patented the thrill of the unknown, a fact evident in these two shows. Two White Guys--the female Rebecca Drysdale and the black Jordan Peele--have concocted a revue as sly as their name. Playing television addicts channeled from the couch to a stage, it's their turn to do the entertaining.

When not spoofing channel surfing (a too frequent target), the Two White Guys' skits are decidedly better than the boob tube. In one overlong but fully focused bit, geezers on a porch agonize over the astonishing sight of a total stranger. A sensitivity session on diversity complete with charts seems to threaten political correctness, but a wry twist turns it toward tolerance. Though it ends too often, a scene depicting animated characters auditioning for a Disney film is delightfully detailed and intricately imagined. Drysdale's scatological pep talk about the virtues of "shit pride" is delivered with anal-expulsive gusto, and Peele brings phony B-movie intensity to a navy commando confronted with his most dangerous assignment yet: forcing laughs from strangers. It's not all LOL, but with its deft identity switches and creative confusion, this show is more original than the rest of the nightlife in Wrigleyville.

Improv Survivor is a lot more innocent and less manipulative than its inspiration, the real-life TV soap opera. Though the neo-Darwinian update of Swiss Family Robinson is a satirist's dream, ImprovOlympic director Charna Halpern takes it seriously enough to transform her show into an improvised survival of the funniest. This 45-minute weekly contest has six audience volunteers playing group improv games--creating an imaginary ad agency, building scenes from cues out of a self-help book, starting sentences with consecutive letters of the alphabet. After each round, the contestants vote an underachiever off the team. At the end of the evening the losers return to pick a survivor, who will compete with other winners in September.

The series is off to a sturdy start. The opening-week rivals were confident and resourceful in their game playing (but not their scene building) and good sports when they lost. The winner was likable, though he'll have to double his charm to avoid getting booted next month.

--Lawrence Bommer

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