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Collective Soul

"Character Dogville" improv show could benefit from greater common ground.

Stacy Mayer and Wayne Henry in character as part of "Middle Village" in a previous "Character Dogville."

The Manhattan Comedy Collective led by Stacy Mayer has been at The Sage Theater near Times Square for over a year now, after leaving longtime downtown digs, and when seen recently after a long time away, unfortunately seems to have lost some steam.

The group’s March 5 performance, a Wednesday night granted, consisted of two sets of performers doing improv in character under the “Character Dogville” banner, and while they captured the bleak ennui of the movie “Dogville” that inspired that banner, they really needed more than a few spare amusing moments that often took too long to find.

The first set of performers, dubbed “Afterpants High School,” were dominated by Jeremiah Murphy’s amusing vice principal character, whose sing-songy high German voice resembled the “Mooninites” from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, perhaps a little too closely. The other characters, such as “Sol Bernstein” and “Posey Chesterton,” ricocheted off each other without being able to take the story anywhere, leaving Murphy as the best thing in most scenes.

The second set of MCC performers, dubbed “Middle Village,” and including Mayer, did fare a little better, with sad sack personalities coming closer to building a story. They etched their characters more memorably as well, notably “Petunia Lee Swanson,” played by Wayne Henry as a manly lesbian coffeehouse proprietor (click here for a look at the Petunia character); “Barbara, like Barbara Bush but just Barbara,” played by Devon Ragsdale, a teen who wasn’t cool enough to work retail at the mall and instead scrubs floors, which she did through most of the improvisation; and Stefan, a German exchange student with an improbably sunny disposition. Even “Posey Chesterton,” joining the group, seemed to have more to riff off with this set of players.

The MCC ensemble certainly does challenge themselves by doing improv in character where the characters each of them choose are so wildly divergent that it may indeed be difficult for them to connect. A critic can suggest some things that would help performers in a review, but can’t necessarily recommend wholesale changes. Still, putting together characters that are more likely to be in the same universe could help. The juxtaposition of disparate personalities in Character Dogville handicaps its performers from generating comic sparks.

The Manhattan Comedy Collective’s “Character Dogville” continues its run at the Sage Theater, 10 p.m. Fridays, March 14, 21 and 28.




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