Things get as hot and steamy as an Everglades swamp (and as hilarious as only the improv geniuses of Impro Theatre can make them) in Tennessee Williams UnScripted, the troupe’s fourth visit to Garry Marshall’s Falcon Theatre.
Following a prerecorded reminder to turn off all cell phones (since the light they emit “may cause the actors to become unhinged from theatrical reality”), we’re off and running, an audience suggestion setting completely improvised plot gears in motion. (At the performance reviewed, a brass bowl ended up the requested family heirloom.)
No matter that “Tennessee Williams’ Brass Bowl” is by now but a memory shared by a hundred-thirty or so Opening Night guests, elements of what made it such an outrageously funny, supremely imaginative treat are guaranteed at future performances.
You can count on:
• Wackily named characters like Bobo and Scudge and Carnelian and Chance. (The latter got his moniker when his mother screamed, “Give him a chance!” following doctors’ advice that it might be best to just let an infant born with one lung outside his little body die as God must have intended.)
• A sweltering locale for the action to unfold in. (On Opening Night it was a “mountain swamp resort” in an otherwise flat Sunshine State. “It sticks out like a sore thumb.”)
• A plot with more twists and turns than a Florida python, last night’s revolving around a quartet of married guests, the resort’s Big Daddy-like proprietor Tobias, the abovementioned mysterious stranger Chance, and (in a pre-intermission shocker) a big black snake slithering out of the swimming pool to awake terrifying memories of Carnelian’s mother’s untimely death by fangs.
• Inspired laugh lines it would take a TV comedy staff a whole lot longer than a split-second to come up with, such as the Blanche Dubois-like Roberta, having just vomited in her husband’s prize sedan, revealing that she’d “seen Christ in the windshield”; Chance introducing himself with a “Name’s Chance. People call me … … … when they need me”; Roberta explaining the “bad feeling” she has about the resort’s flocked wallpaper. (“It wasn’t supposed to be here. It was brought here against its will.”); and more, many many more.
As for the titular Brass Bowl, I can’t predict what future Tennessee Williams UnScripteds will bring, but last night’s cast made sure never to let us forget the play’s title. (Tobias’s “special bowl” turned out to be a souvenir from when he was “one with the Peruvians.”)
Improv artists don’t get any more brilliant than those of Impro Theatre, and Opening Night’s sensational seven—Kari Coleman (Roberta), Kelly Holden Bashar (Melinda), Brian Lohmann (Bobo), Dan O’Connor (Scudge), Edi Patterson (Carnelian), Ryan Smith (Chance), and Floyd VanBuskirk (Tobias)—proved themselves masters at not just inventing plot but also making entrances and ending scenes at precisely the right moment, never breaking character no matter how easy it would be to burst out laughing, finding their light for improved monologs, and even picking up on accidental mistakes and running with them. (Much was made in Brass Bowl of one character’s inadvertently calling it “copper.”)
Lohmann’s direction once again proves inspired, and whether it’s the Opening Night ensemble or their fellow company members Lisa Frederickson, Brian Michael Jones, Stephen Kearin, Lauren Rose Lewis, Nick Massouh, Jo McGinley, Mike McShane, or Michele Spears taking centerstage, audiences are guaranteed not only one lollapalooza of a show but one they can recount to friends in minute detail without fear of revealing spoilers.
Scenic designer Michael C. Smith’s vividly hued set could just as easily be New Orleans’ Latin Quarter or a Puerta Vallarta beach resort or a Mississippi plantation. Costume designer Sandra Burns outfits each performer in garb that informs character choices. Technical improviser Madison Goff tailors Leigh Allen’s topnotch lighting design and some Williams-esque musical underscoring to fit each original play to improvised perfection.
Goff is stage manager. Alex Caan is assistant stage manager and technical improviser. Emily Rose Jacobson is production assistant.
With Impro Theatre once again making improvised theatrical magic in beautiful downtown Toluca Lake this month and next, a walk on the Tennessee Williams wild side makes for one wild and wacky Falcon Theatre ride.
Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank.
June 17, 2106
Photos: Sasha A. Venola