The Improvised Shakespeare Company at Bumbershoot: an English Major’s Fever Dream
The Improvised Shakespeare Company is the combined talent and intelligence of some of Chicago’s best improv performers. They take a suggestion from the audience, and that becomes the title. From there they improvise an entire play. For today’s show, the title was “The Unfortunate Mustache.”
Seeing this show is like crack for a former English Major such as myself. Watching them create sometimes-rhyming, on-the-fly iambic pentameter is like watching jazz musicians riff. What they do comes from years of practice. They make what they’re doing look easy. It’s anything but.
With long form improv comedy you really get to see the actors being actors as much as comedians. There are plenty of jokes, but there are also discrete scenes, and an overall structure to the play that makes it seem like a one-off performance rather than a series of improv games. Having the themes and structures of Shakespeare to construct the show with gives it an inherent coherence. Those tropes are well-established, and it makes for a common language between the actors and the audience. As was the case with Shakespeare, this show was full of puns and dirty jokes.
Some of the scenes were better than others. Everybody in the room is experiencing something new, including the actors. Granted, they know each other well enough to expect certain things, but one of the really fun parts of the show is watching the actors experience surprise. Occasionally they’d break, but not often. When they did, it was largely to comedic effect.
Some of the high water marks were the Mortal Kombat-themed fight sequence, and their nod to Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project at the end of their show. It made the Seattle audience really happy. At the end they got a well deserved standing ovation.
Before the Improvised Shakespeare Company heads back to Chicago they will have one more performance on the last day of Bumbershoot at 4:15pm in the Bagley Wright Theatre. It’s worth the line for the comedy ticket, and the line to get into the show. This company would make the Bard proud.
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