Improvised Shakespeare Company sets up shop through March at the Garner Galleria with a hilarious, ever-changing show
Strictly in terms of laughs per minute, this was the funniest show I’ve seen in Colorado all year.
The premise is straightforward: Five actors all dressed alike in black pants, white blouses and knee-high socks arrive on a medieval-y dressed stage and ask the audience to suggest a name for the show they’re about to make up. On the second night of the run when I was there, someone blurted out “It’s All True!” and the game was on.
The show we were about to see, Improvised creator Blaine Swen told us at the top, would be opening and closing night simultaneously. And while it is indeed an improvised affair, this is a seasoned troupe that’s been around the block with this thing quite a few times. They borrow heavily from standard Shakespeare character and plot-line tropes: murderous rogues, scheming, horny royals, palace intrigue, nefarious characters — all the stuff we know and love about Shakespeare tossed into a verbal blender and shot back out in remarkably off-the-cuff, mostly rhyming iambic pentameter.
Recognizable words and phrases from Shakespeare come hot and heavy, but the troupe doesn’t borrow anything in whole cloth. They’re on a parallel highway to, say, some mashup of King Lear and As You Like It, taking cues from scripts we all know and love but reflecting them in a fun-house mirror that moves at the speed of thought.
The made-up play is not a series of vignettes like a typical improv show. Nay, it is a full-length play with a cohesive story that has a prologue, beginning, middle and end. All created right before the amazed eyes of the audience.
These guys are good.
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That this won’t be a haphazard affair is clear right from the get-go, when all of the actors save one exit the stage. On this night, it was Second City veteran Ross Bryan who’d drawn the prologue straw, and he set the stage for the play in hilarious rhyming couplets. The scene changes and it’s Swen and another Second City alum, Brendan Dowling, plotting to murder the prince.
Before long they’re joined by characters like The Town Pervert (Josh Logan), a feral orphan who speaks an unknown tongue (Randall Harr) and a host of others that may be one-offs or may recur depending on need.
I assume that the actors off-stage are mapping out what they might do next, but much of the action and dialogue is created on-the-fly. Employing the guardrails of a standard Shakespearean plot, the troupe does a remarkable job not just with the immediate laugh-getters required of improv but in creating a consistent story that arrives at a satisfyingly silly conclusion.
Some of the best stuff happens when they hit upon a bit that has legs, and you can see the light bulbs going off when that happens. On this night, one of the characters uttered the phrase “feral orphans,” and that was immediately seized upon to hilarious effect. All five at one point become a Lost Boys-like gang of feral orphans, and a plot line where they’re adopted by the king is quickly adopted.
Another successful bit occurred when a slip of the tongue turned Bryan from a door guard to a “guard door,” an identity the lanky actor ran with successfully for several minutes.
Of course, this was just one night. Results may vary, but I’d hazard a guess that they’ll all be quite funny. The show is being staged in the cabaret-style Garner Galleria, which means you can grab a cocktail at the bar (there’s also table service) and enjoy the show in a more laid-back atmosphere. I’d suggest bringing along a few friends for what is certainly one of Denver’s funniest nights on the town going on this year and into next.
The fact that The Improvised Shakespeare Company will work its magic at the Denver Center’s Garner Galleria Theatre all the way into March means there will be plenty of opportunity for anyone in need of a really fun break from reality to see it.
Note: The Improvised Shakespeare Company’s Denver run also features Joey Bland and Greg Hess on certain nights.