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To Improv Be True

Shakespeare-inspired group infuses performances with spirit of the Bard's plays

One of the first salvos in the 11th Annual Del Close Improv Marathon this year was the Chicago-based group, Improvised Shakespeare, seen August 11 in a performance that took all the biggest traditions of Shakespearean plays and transplanted them into improv comedy.

Whether it was knowing asides to the audience, high drama or low crude humor (albeit achieved through sophisticated wordplay), the five-man group managed to capture all these tones in their 50-minute performance.

Although at times they would violate the cardinal rule of improv, of not negating what a fellow player has said, the group themselves and the audience laughed these instances off -- they were so funny that no one minded -- and were fodder for asides to the audience. A great example of the group’s skill in incorporating the audience came late in the performance when disturbed by a cellphone ring, fortuitously in the middle of a scene about wedding rings, and the players roundly condemned the inconsiderate audience member and the institution of marriage at the same time.

Improvised Shakespeare also tapped the Bard’s tradition of bawdiness with a scene about a gala dance that had several puns on “balls” with the dance organizer being the “ball master.” “364 days out of the year I am the subject of much laughter,” he said. “But tonight I am well regarded.”

Also, the nature of the story the group created had the arc and language of Shakespeare -- in this case a tale of two couples who go through intrigues on their way to the altar, with one couple pledging to still find each other anew at a masquerade ball, without being tempted by anyone else. Of course, being improv, the group did not stick to their Shakespearean format completely, throwing in a few modern references as well.

The marathon will present a lot of the types of groups that fit improv into another style, with performances of improvised musicals, improvisations all within certain characters or voices, and the like. But Improvised Shakespeare is one group that truly takes the idea of doing improv within the bounds of another context and really plays with the spirit of what they are paying homage to.

Improvised Shakespeare performs again Aug. 12 and 13, and within the marathon at 7 p.m. Aug. 14 and 9 p.m. Aug. 15. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

     

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