Picking up where they left off in 2020, the troupe is back in residence at the Denver Center

In March of 2020, when live theatre the world over came to a screeching halt, many a stage set was simply left up. No one knew at the time how long the pandemic hiatus would last, and so those sets sat, gathering dust, their owners hoping they would one day again be put to use.

So it was with the set at the Garner Galleria Theatre at the Denver Center — a simple design meant to evoke a castle. The temporary home of the Improvised Shakespeare Company, the show had been running since the previous fall, and they were luckier than most since their run was close to its end when it had to close.

Now, two years since I saw the show in October of 2019, the boys are back, bringing with them their signature blend of Shakespeare-infused improv. It’s not often I go to a show I’ve already reviewed, especially one with the same cast, but this was a unique opportunity to compare performances.

And, true to form and in accordance with their manner of doing things, the ISC did a completely different show, albeit using the same format: The audience is invited to shout out the titles of shows that sound sorta Shakespearean, and the actors quickly pick one that looks promising. This night, the suggestion was The Revenge of Edwin Benedict, and they were off to the races.

The five actors, clad in breeches and white blouses, are expert in building a plot based on what they know about the typical Shakespeare play combined with whatever they can come up with on the spot. At the top, as the other four left the stage to plan, Joey Bland remained on stage to stitch together a prologue. Grasping for rhyming couplets wherever he could find them, Bland did an admirable job setting the scene for the rest of the evening.

Alongside the pressing job of keeping the action going in the most humorous manner possible, they’re also on the lookout for a hook — some bit that emerges that they can tease more out of. On this night, they hit upon a meaty one pretty early when Brendan Dowling, playing an old king, is informed by Josh Logan that his skin is so loose that it’s flapping about and lingering behind even when he leaves the room.

This disgusting characteristic informed a lot of funny lines and fueled a hilarious ending fight scene, when Dowling’s character had evolved into a blob-like creature that could contain multiple items within its gelatinous mass — up to and including other characters.

Another running gag involved one character suspended in the dungeon being harassed by bears (the creature he was most scared of, another character revealed).

Other scenes were decidedly reminiscent of Shakespeare, including one in the forest where a banished knight, Tim Sniffen, trains a young woman brought to him as a baby to be a mighty warrior. (She is, of course, also related to the opposing king and has aged rapidly in the magic wood.)

The cast is rounded out by troupe leader Blaine Swen who, like the others, jumps in and out of characters (male or female) as easy as changing scarves.

It all makes for a fun, affordable night of theatre where audiences get to see the opening and closing night of a play that will never be performed again. The only downside is that the bar at the Garner Galleria hasn’t yet reopened, so the normal table service that makes the venue so distinctive is absent.

No matter. The fast-paced show needs no potent potables to enjoy, and it’s nice to see at least one of the theatres at the DCPA complex up and running.

Note: The Improvised Shakespeare Company’s Denver run also features Ross Bryant on certain nights.