“We all wanna be free to be ourselves” the cast of DECADES sang in the unexpected improvised finale song that clearly captured the essence of this show: We’ll do what we want and enjoy it, even if you don’t.
How to begin…first, there’s the premise: an improv show with a theme of “Decades.’ Those decades being 1950-1980. Great! Sounds different right?
I understand the logic behind the theme. It gives the performers parameters, it appeals to a large percentage of audience members who were alive for most of those years, really, it appears to be a solid choice.
Unfortunately this decision became extremely limiting. Take for example the costumes. Dressed like stereotypes of people you might see during any of the four included decades (hippie, greaser, disco queen) the performers naturally chose to be those stereotypes. This eliminated the elements of creativity and adaptability that are essential to making Improv surprising.
The projections of random environments (a park, a 1950s diner, another park) coupled with the intrusive sound design allowed the performers little freedom to create their own improvised circumstances. The ending of the decade, in one instance, was determined by the blaring of an air raid horn, dimming of the lights and the actors hastily shuffling off-stage.
Conceived by Pamela Nash
1021 7th Street NW 3rd Floor
Washington, DC 20001 t The Shop – Fort Fringe
607 New York Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001
Details and tickets
There were some good instincts and stage work. Tim Trueheart, Thomas Beheler and Peter Orvetti in particular were working hard to introduce new ideas. It felt like the team gained brief momentum in the fourth set, largely due to Trueheart’s entrance. Garbed in a shiny faux-leather red track suit and an odd mesh tank-top he injected himself into a floundering scene about a rock duo unable to tease their hair to perfection. His high energy and sharp responses as the replacement opener for the rock show earned big laughs that, up to that point, were as nonexistent as cool air in the sweltering Gearbox theater.
True to improv format, audience members were able to make a suggestion via note cards. One was chosen and projected briefly before the show started. “Outdoor activities” was the topic of discussion and “sales” was the job that both men and women can have. Both suggestions factored into the four sets consistently but again, proved to be an additional limitation. A new suggestion or expansion on the opening suggestion could have allowed for new inspiration and further audience involvement.
The ending musical number came as a small redemption. The group appeared confident and happy to be on stage. You could tell that they really cared about what they were doing. Sadly, it was too little too late.
With more team connection and solid improvisation fundamentals this show could be worth a trip through the decades. For now however, I’ll stick with 2014.