When they say “long form” improv, boy, they really mean it. Such was New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade, whose touring company makes its second stint of weekend performances (they are here until March 27th) at Sidney Harman Hall, co-produced by UCB and DCComedy.org. The Brigade is one of the nation’s many improv theatres from which we derive yet another hundred species of comedy troupes such as Human Giant, the Brat Pack, Mystery Team, and a bevy of SNL performers of the last ten to fifteen years – including UCB founding member Amy Poehler, Will Ferrell, and Janeane Garofalo. What was delivered to Harman Hall was not so much a definitive measure of the theatre’s astounding and hilarious history, but rather a pleasurable sampling. If only the venue hadn’t been the training room for Shakespearean actors. Cushioned by curtain décor and lines of chairs, the atmosphere was less “black box” and more “motivational speaker.”
Our four comics started off the evening by asking one of the many thirty-somethings in the audience to sit front-and-center and speak rather frankly about their personal lives. Never did the jokers push the boundaries of their chosen victim, yet their off-the-cuff ribbings before the actual skit started sometimes felt more genuine than the resulting rigamaroles. Clippings of “lawn bowling” and “pharmaceutical majors” became ten-minute performances revolving around giddy college fangirls at a bocce tournament, as well as an overly-ardent girlfriend who gets turned on by bulletin boards. Cheating boyfriends and girlfriends were easy role-playing exercises for the four comics; the audience’s fascination could be pinpointed as the men rediscover the tiny essences of relationship quirks that our television and films tend to lack, considering their romantic conformities. The skits ranged from inventive to gut-busting, from the absurd to the very absurd.
Now, you may ask, why my emphasis on “long form”? Because, while UCB’s show lasted a mere hour and some short change, the omnitude of the three (yes, only three) skits gave the actors no time to breathe. Yes, we understand it’s their trade, but the set felt jammed with skits – some skits came across too forced or undeveloped, despite the ample subject matter. And yes, we understand that it’s never always 100-percent, so please take these singular complaints with grains of salt and pepper. The chosen four comics (no programs, so we can’t identify them) never wore themselves out, and the hits totaled more than misses. From a historic troupe, you’ll be hard pressed to find more clever improv artists in the area for awhile. At a slim 20-bill, what’s to lose?
With this review, we welcome writer Phil Calabro to the scene.
UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE
Celia Wren . The Post