Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
Laughter and Literature: “Jane Austin Unscripted” at The Carrie Hamilton
The Los Angeles-based company Impro Theatre has a delightfully fresh approach to the art of improvisation. An “Unscripted Repertory” theater company, Impro concentrates on recreating the feel of important literary or dramatic voices in completely original, unscripted and individual 90-minute plays. Each is based on one or two audience suggestions, added to the tone present in whatever artist’s work they have chosen to represent.
At the Carrie Hamilton Theater, upstairs at the Pasadena Playhouse, the Impro has unveiled “Jane Austin Unscripted.” There they create a new play every night, utilizing a rotating crew from their stable of performers both onstage and providing sound and light effects. All they promise is that “there are likely to be some sisters who seek romance, and some men who might provide it.” After that, one buckles one’s seatbelt to see what will happen.
The concept is a most ambitious one: to make a completely new play every night, staying in tone and in touch, handling individual sudden inspirations, and being funny enough to make an audience collapse in laughter without losing one’s sangfroid. That this is accomplished seems just short of a miracle. That what one remembers is cleverness, continuity and that most freeing form of laughter says most clearly what should be said about the enterprise.
The evening I attended, a suggestion that allergies be an innocuous topic of discussion lead to a story line developed around a Regency era girl who could not leave her country home for fear of exposure to “nature.” She was joined by her rather obvious sister, and the story began with the romantic ambitions of her parents when a handsome young man and his overly worldly sister arrive at the manor nearby. All very Austin, as is Sandra Burns’ essential setting and costume elements. Still, this cannot possibly convey the level of sheer (and consistent) hilarity this group delivered.
Onstage that night, of the 14 regulars and 5 “special guests” they could have called upon, were Tracy Burns, Kari Coleman, Lisa Fredrickson, Jo McGinley, Nick Massouh, Paul Rogan and Floyd VanBuskirk. All managed an impressive balance in the shifting sands of their concocted story, not to mention that aforementioned and admirable ability to keep a straight face in the midst of well-crafted ridiculousness. Lissette Jean-Marie and Eliot Hochberg improvised lights and sound – most impressive during Burns’ pantomimed horseback ride, but always a presence.
Yet, you will not see what I saw. I wouldn’t either, if I returned, for every night is a completely new tale, genteel and Austinian though it might become. What impresses most is the ability to prolong a single thematic structure in such a long improvisation, with such exquisite timing. This is the core of the pleasure of “Jane Austin Unscripted”: at the end of an admittedly long week, the waves of of cheerful laughter this company provides proves a welcome balm.
What: Impro Theatre’s “Jane Austin Unscripted” When: Through April 14, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays Where: The Carrie Hamilton Theatre, upstairs at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave. in Pasadena How Much: $25 Info: (626) 356-7529 or http://www.pasadenaplayhouse.org