They’ve done Jane Austen UnScripted, Tennessee Williams UnScripted, and William Shakespeare UnScripted to rave notices and audience cheers. Impro Theatre now turns its talents to L.A. Noir UnScripted, and the 100% improvised result may well be their very best UnScripted yet.

Adultery, betrayals, crime, dark street corners, double-crosses, femmes fatales, greed, lust, murder, nightclubs, smoky bars, and a hard-boiled private dick in the City Of Angels—every single film noir ingredient (and cliché) is there, making L.A. Noir UnScripted a must-see for fans of such film noir classics as Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and The Maltese Falcon.

Once the members of the troupe have made their entrances (in archetypically noiresque poses), a pair of audience suggestions (a location that could have existed in L.A. in the 1940s or ‘50s and an everyday object) are all these improv specialists need to set off on their journey into darkness—and laughter. (At the performance reviewed, it was The Brown Derby and a hat.)

Perhaps the reason film noir makes for Impro Theatre’s finest hour (and a half) is that the genre is more deadly serious than any of the others they’ve undertaken—leading to more laughs than ever. There’s also no need to worry about accents or archaic speech patterns. No wonder these masters of the adlib can concoct gems like the following:
•“There’s no place to hide when you can be seen wherever you go.”
•“Don’t you know? A lady never runs. She just fixes her face and then she comes.”
•“It’s tough when the postman can’t seem to find your box.”
•“It’s a beautiful world of Oz we’re creating here, and you’re going to be my Dorothy.”
•“You know what happens when we get back? We’re here again.”
• “This is not San Francisco. Stop giving me the fog!”
•“All right. I’ll give you the Glendale.”

Sunday’s improvised film noir two-acter had all the requisite characters: Mike O’Shaughnessy, private eye. Chet Baker, sidekick. A trio of femmes fatales including damsel in distress Evelyn Candice, her worried sister Shirley Candice, and a Hispanic beauty known only as Poodle. An evil villain named Gerardo Tamtam. Other assorted characters including a Latino pipsqueak named Eduardo and a pair of Russian gals, Anastasia and Sasha, aka Stalin’s last prostitutes.

Part of the fun of watching an Impro Theatre production is the way the cast is often forced to think quickly on their feet and to occasionally find ways to explain away mistakes. For instance, when a character was called Candice by one actor and Evelyn by another, she quickly became Evelyn Candice, and the actress playing her sister dubbed herself Shirley Candice.

Then there’s the way actors can take a verbal suggestion and run with it, as when one character was told, “You’re up against the bar,” and began quickly to mime making her way out of the “Lemon Sherbet Room” by feeling along the invisible bar behind her.

Occasionally an actor can’t come up with a clever retort and even that can be funny, as when one character informed another, “Mr. Tamtam’s business is curios,” and another replied deadpan, “I don’t know what that means.”

Any film noir worth its salt features plenty of slaps, punches, physical action, and the roughing up of characters, and here too Impro Theatre does its inspired stuff. The genre also means flashbacks, and lighting improviser Jim Sabo is up in the booth, ever on the alert to produce just the right effect. Sound improviser Jason Murphy concocts plenty of sounds (doors opening, traffic whizzing by, etc.) with just a microphone and his mouth. Matt Richter’s lighting design, Sandra Burns’ costumes, and Brian Lohmann’s set (with its outlines of bodies on the floor) add to the 1940s noir atmosphere. Best of all may be the authentic film noir background music which provides an almost continuous soundtrack by film noir composer greats including Bernard Herrmann, Miklos Rozsa, Franz Waxman, Max Steiner, and others.

Lohmann’s direction is as brilliant as ever, and the cast of each “episode” simply couldn’t be better at their craft. Sunday’s cast was comprised of Tracy Burns (Shirley Candice), Stephen Kearin (Chet Baker), Brian Michael Jones (Mr. Brewster and Eduardo), Lohmann (Gerardo Tamtam), Dan O’Connor (Mike O’Shaughnessy), Edi Patterson (Poodle), and Michele Spears (Evelyn Candice). Since each evening’s cast and plot are different, repeat visits will doubtless prove every bit as entertaining as one’s initial Impro Theatre experience.

Though a rental of Kiss Me Deadly, Murder My Sweet, The Big Sleep, or any of the noir classics mentioned previously will enhance one’s enjoyment of L.A. Noir UnScripted, those unfamiliar with the genre need not fear. Even the uninitiated will have one heck of a good time falling under the Impro Theatre spell.

Theatre Asylum at 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
May 2, 2010
Photos: Blake Gardner

Comments are closed.