By Nathaniel Cayanan
Improv has a bad rap – even some of our favorite television shows mock improv as a reduced art-form, where actors talk aimlessly, spewing out self-referential winks and topical jokes to an “all-too-generous” audience. This is perhaps due to so many bad improv troupes out there, who are so in love with their own cleverness that we just want to roll our eyes.
But, good improv goes far beyond these typical misperceptions. A skilled improv troupe should have not only a good sense of humor, but also a strong understanding of the fundamentals of storytelling, such as structure, conflict, tension, and dialogue. Furthermore, the actors need to be sensitive, both to their collaborators and the subject matter they endeavor to turn into a full-fledged show.
Such is the case with Impro Theatre and their newest show “Tennessee Williams UnScripted.” Built of a battalion of actors who have served a variety of roles in the acting world, from teaching to television, Impro Theatre has been performing shows in the Los Angeles area for about a decade now. With shows that play on the styles of great playwrights and writers such as Shakespeare and Jane Austen, the troupe has evolved to a critically acclaimed improvisational theatre company, fine-tuning their craft and exhibiting great understanding of not only the art of improv, but also what makes a show captivate an audience from beginning to end.
Throughout the improvised scenes of the show, each of the actors exhibits quick wit and a strong understanding of the mentioned fundamentals of storytelling. What results is a smooth, organic show that, at times, has you wondering whether they actually did write a script beforehand. A prime example of this is actress Kelly Holden Bashar, who, in Saturday’s performance, was able to push the unpredictable plot forward by adding some form of conflict within each scene, both between her and her cast-mates and within her own character. In all, these performances were at times intriguing, while hilarious and highly entertaining.
What is also quite delightful is the company’s handling of their chosen subject matter, in this case, Tennessee Williams, one of the most iconic American playwrights of the 20th century. It can be very easy for a young improv troupe to handle Williams’ work superficially, overemphasizing bad southern accents or giving their best Marlon Brando impersonations. But, Impro Theatre instead shows that they have a deeper understanding of Williams’ style and themes of disenchantment with the traditional, sexual repression, self-denial, shame, and violence between the sexes.
It is hard to say whether one show will be just as good as another, since as is with improv, each show is different. But based on “Tennessee Williams UnScripted,” as well as other past shows, it is quite clear that Impro Theatre is a skilled company that takes their craft seriously, and will only further prove that improv can be great.
“Tennessee Williams UnScripted” will play until July 31 at Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive in Burbank. Single tickets range from $29 to $44 and can be purchased by calling (818) 955-8101 or visiting www.FalconTheatre.com.