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Review: ‘Citizens’ Watch’ at Washington Improv Theater

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One of the best things about improv is that no two shows are alike. And Citizens’ Watch, the improvisational mystery now unfolding at Washington Improv Theater, is no exception.

Cast of Washington Improv Theater’s Citizens’ Watch. Photo by Jeff Salmore.

Citizens Watch, which had its debut last year, is part of Seasonal Disorder, Washington Improv Theater’s annual holiday review. Even if you’ve seen it before, it’s worth seeing again, just to find out how many different jokes can be extracted from the same basic plot.

The play is a parody of a traditional British mystery—think Agatha Christie—in which there are nine characters living in a village in which everyone knows everyone else. One character is murdered, but she revives long enough to reenact her final moments with each of the suspects.

Of course, everyone in town—including the detectives, the victim’s mother, her doctor, and her lover—is a suspect, but only one is the actual murderer. The killer is chosen by an audience member, in a toss of the dice, but his or her identity is kept a dark secret until the end.

Of course, there are other dark secrets in the play, including plagiarism, adultery, alcoholism, and (my favorite) the stealing of brochures.

Members of the audience choose the name of the village, its tourist attraction, and its most significant feature.

The night I was there, the town was named Wankersville. Its chief attraction was a lighthouse and its most notable feature a Taco Bell. (One of the best jokes of the evening had to do with a statue of Mr. Bell being erected in the town square.)

Some of the characters’ self-descriptions are very funny. The police chief is a buxom lady who says she worked her way up from being a pre-school teacher. (Unlike her detective, she is not squeamish about dead bodies, having spent many years changing diapers.)

Like all improv, Citizens’ Watch is unscripted. It is, nevertheless, tightly structured, thanks to the fast-paced direction provided by Michael Hendrix, who is a member of one of the company’s half dozen ensembles. As a result, the actors know exactly when a joke has gone flat and it’s time to switch scenes.

Joe Randazzo, Darnell Eaton, and Jess Lee in Washington Improv Theater’s Citizens’ Watch. Photo by Jeff Salmore.

Raymond Simeon has created a lot of funny lighting effects which serve to keep everything moving even when the action is not.

Citizens’ Watch is preceded each evening by a shorter performance by a different ensemble. Some are more successful than others, although all of them—including Psychotropia, performing the night I attended—are likely to appeal to young audiences.

Most of the actors have studied at Washington Improv Theater, which offers an extensive program of classes for individuals and groups.

While none of the actors in Citizens’ Watch is currently a student, some have more experience than others. As an ensemble, the group needs to work on response time as well as projection. (Several of the performers could not be heard from where I sat, which was in the second row.)

Elaine Colwell, who introduced the evening, described every performance as an opening night. Which means there are four more openings to go before this seasonal laughfest ends.

The cast includes Jamie Bingner, Ryan Brookshire, Darnell Eaton, Justine Hipsky, Nina Hsu, Alex Kazanas, Jess Lee, Brianna Lux, Beth Lyons, Dan Miller (who is also the assistant director), Joe Randazzo, Julia Rocchi, Katie Rush, and Eli Sloan.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

Citizens’ Watch plays through December 29, 2017, at Washington Improv Theater performing at Source – 1835 14th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 204-7770, or purchase tickets online.

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