A case is sometimes made that having no boundaries fosters imagination, but more often the opposite is true: limitations spur creativity. One of the most appealing trends in improv is the specialty skew. In Austin, Confidence Men does improvised David Mamet and Zarzamora crafts bizarre historical routines on the origins of common objects. Alternative Comedy Theater in Dallas has done improvised after-school specials.
Such a blast it was to watch Improvised Jane Austen from Chicago and hear six women bandy around phrases like “frock about,” on the final night of the Dallas Comedy Festival. Modern mentality rushed headlong into comically entangled family intrigues. All of it unfurled in British accents, Regency language and fey mannerisms—the audience ate it up.
Atlantic-Pacific Billy’s MovieProv style of improvising in a film format helped hone focus. When a call for audience suggestions produced nothing but chick flicks, the two female members of the troupe translated the romantic plot of Beauty and the Beast for the three men. They then proceeded to mangle it in a most creative way while terribly funny villager shenanigans were pantomimed in the background. They’ve improved greatly since their rough debut a year ago.
TwinProv’s framework is improvisational rap songs. Two white twins from Oklahoma throwing down the beats. Works much better than it sounds. Buck and Clint Vrazel used a series of rhythm tracks overlaid with chord progressions that lent a good variety to the sound. Alternating song and spoken sections, their improvised epic plots always go somewhere. On this night the topic was “limitless love,” which was a bit alien to the sardonic duo who excel in topical news, science and tech, but they pulled it off. Decked out in business-casual red and black tie and vest, TwinProv is that rare comic troupe with sartorial sense.
Wide Open Improv
Pavlov’s Dogs embrace the more common format of launching their set from a short or one-word audience suggestion. But they brought a terrific sense of the punchline that kept the improv meandering in line. The suggestion of “beer and a hot dog” launched them into a bit on “six-pack Wednesday.” They could have mined an endless vein of clichés, but didn’t. The cast member’s backgrounds in theater, stand up and copywriting fostered a bright uniqueness that’s refreshing.
The evening capped with improv headliners Maribeth Monroe of Workaholics, seen the night before in The 313, and improv zen master David Razowsky. Just about every improv student in the Dallas Comedy House orbit was crammed into the room. The action on the stage was impressive and undeniably skillful, admirably fast and very physical. Too fast as it turned out, affording viewers little time to engage with the characters. But by that late hour, this old-timer was tired and cranky from the house policy of denying on-duty reporters a seat when it’s in demand by other customers. An hour is a long time to stand when you’re trying (unsuccessfully) to take fast notes.
For the supposed 10 p.m. time slot, a tech rehearsal for Maribeth Monroe‘s solo show, Horrible Women, left customers waiting on the sidewalk for more than 30 minutes. It helped to kick off the show with appealing words from Monroe and a punchy music-video bit of giant red talking lips saying outrageous things. A high-energy, well-constructed piece, a series of quick monologues and bits extolling the inappropriate reeled out at a quick clip, linked by bomb blasts of music that set up or reflected upon the material.
Dirty language abounded and sex talk was fun and refreshingly honest. Lots of bare-boned female conversations articulating the unspoken, and mother-daughter relationships were spun with a twisted flair. Vaginas talked and otherwise took up much stage time. A character spouting an impressive number of vagina euphemisms fostered a bravura performance from Monroe.
Of the two recurring routines that threaded the show, parodies of Nancy Grace were common and underwhelming, while a bit on a young girl’s ever-escalating list of enemies was delightfully skewed and enacted by the petite Monroe with great twisted energy. When Santa denied her request to smite Mike Ryan, a schoolboy she didn’t like, she appealed to the Make-a-Wish Foundation to smite both Santa and the boy. When that didn’t work, she appealed to “Barack HUSSEIN Obama” and on to God. Who knew the link was so direct?