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Yankee Improv

Boston's ImprovAsylum headliner melds art and showmanship with a blend of sketches and improvisation.

“Yankee Swap Death Match,” the prime-time weekend show at ImprovAsylum in Boston, does a good job of straddling the line between accessible entertainment and artful exploration of improvisation.

In a performance November 3, featuring three men and three women (two male group members were absent), the group sought to connect right away with its audience by having a cameraman focus on an audience member they chose, putting her image up on screens around them and taking her as inspiration for an opening song.

To lessen the chance of losing the audience’s attention, the group alternates between written sketches and short improvised scenes, with both types of bits just using a handful of chairs as the only props.

In their sketches, the group gets in some dark twisted humor, with Rachel Bitney as an office worker who can’t stop karate chopping everyone who gets too close, leaving a “retarded” guy (their words not this writer’s) to wonder what has happened. Another sketch with a similar tone features Ryan Dolan as a war veteran who’s lost his sight, which is topped off by Jeremy Brothers’ recalling his war protestor past to the vet instead of being a friend and cheering him up.

Brothers is a versatile stand-out among the group, playing a range of roles in the sketches, like the aforementioned retarded guy, and the protagonist of a sketch about unwanted encounters with old high school classmates in the grocery store back in his hometown.

The improv portions of the show are left open to a succession of audience suggestions to engage the audience as the scenes build. Micah Sherman and Taylor Burris began a scene as a clumsy couple worried about their 23-year-old son still living at home, but added another layer to their physical comedy of pratfalls as they try to lay down the law to him.

With a versatile cast that can play to complementary strengths, ImprovAsylum can entertain on both broad and subtler levels, in written sketches as well as their improvised scenes.











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