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Scenes From A Marathon (Part 4)

7:30-9:30 p.m. Saturday at Hudson Guild Theater (cont.):
Midnight Society

Following Bassprov would be a tough task for anyone, but Austin, Texas-based group Midnight Society just did their thing. They found a nice groove with some riffing on the high school strata of jocks and nerds.

9:45 p.m.-10:45 p.m. at Urban Stages:
Look Cookie

Later Saturday night, at the Marathonís Urban Stages venue, another Austin-based group, Look Cookie, hit a good group scene with a twisted version of the Dating Game, in which Kerri Lendo found a fun dynamic playing against the men in this mostly male group as the contestants or suitors. However, one of the other motifs the group came up with, people falling into an underground box trap, seemed a little too artificial and contrived.

Blue Screen
Another Cambridge, Mass.-based entry in the Marathon, the eight-member group Blue Screen, was not as cohesive as their neighbors Three Hole Punch (see part 3), but did at least imaginatively explore the conceit of doing an entire long-form improv in the form of a movie, with all the attendant cliches of a genre movie, in this case working with the title ďCheese GraterĒ to present a hodge-podge take-off of an action movie, complete with a heroís quest to win a cook-off.

3-5 p.m. at UCB Theatre:
Pudding Thank You

In the final hours seen in the Marathon, Chicago-based trio Pudding Thank You delivered a couple good ideas, around the motivations of ghosts for haunting places, and the very funny idea of a John Wayne Gacy museum being located in the crawlspace of a house.

The Marathon performance by Washington, D.C.-based improv group Jackie featured stand-out work by Patrick Gantz, possibly a newer group member not yet billed on the groupís own website. Gantz actually made the audience buy in to a character never having ever seen a baby before and astounded by one.

Delta Force 2: Operation Strangehold
Fittingly for its title, this performance highlighted the fact that most of the New York and/or UCB-based groups appearing in the Marathon were often leaps and bounds higher in ability than a lot of their out-of-town colleagues. This trio grouping featured two-thirds of the Human Giant sketch group that UCB has spawned, Rob Heubel and Paul Scheer, with colleague Owen Burke. It didnít hurt that these three have been particularly adept improv performers for a long time.

Working off their own brief monologues as an opening, the group proceeded to illustrate inventive scenes like trying to ďpop inĒ to a neo-Nazi club just to use the bathroom, like one might do at a Starbucks; a naÔve guy getting beat up every time he arrives in New Yorkís Port Authority on business trips; and finding an Olympic table tennis judge at the last minute at a McDonaldís. They are a pleasure to watch.

Letís Have A Ball
Lastly, an incarnation of Letís Have A Ball (previously reviewed 5/18/08) included Scott Adsit, Anthony King, Christina Gausas, Tami Sahger, Kay Cannon and Laura Krafft. Cannon and Sahger played a lesbian couple looking for a man to satisfy oneís fantasy to watch the other one be with a guy. You might think this alone would be a showstopper, but the group soon topped it, all by reacting to a banging noise coming repeatedly from one wall of the theater, with Adsit, showing true commitment, repeatedly banging his own head against a wall -- after Krafft and Adsit played up a bit where she felt vulnerable from the threatening noise and hugged him. Also, Dan Goor added a lot of diverse characters with diverse accented voices to the group.

Improv performances are a lot more difficult to critique than sketch shows or stand-up -- although one can point to how well the performers communicate and build on storylines, you donít have a finished constructed product to assess. That said, itís easy to see why some of the UCBís own performers have such strong reputations from viewing their work side by side with that of younger or less-seasoned improv performers, or performers without the benefit of as populous and competitive a crucible of improv talent as there is in New York -- or Chicago (like Bassprov) -- and at the UCB. That makes discoveries such as Jackie or Three Hole Punch all the more impressive, when they come close to measuring up against improvís finest.





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