Review: ‘Interplay: Poetic Resistance and In Lieu of Flowers’ by Washington Improv Theater

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Washington Improv Theater’s productions of Poetic Resistance and In Lieu of Flowers at D.C. Arts Center are funny, yet thoughtful shows with incredibly talented performers. With two different shows featuring different casts, themes, and methods, and both using no props, they are terrific examples of improv comedy at its best.

The cast of In Lieu of Flowers. Photo by Jaci Pulice.

Poetic Resistance cleverly incorporates poetry throughout the show. As a cast member explained at the beginning, it is “improv inspired by poetry and poetry inspired by improv.” Before entering the theater, audience members were asked to write a poem on a slip of paper and put it in a glass jar. The show began with local poet P.S. Perkins (each performance will feature different poets) reciting her poem entitled “Freedom.” She was talking about the freedom to put down the cell phone and experience life firsthand, to “take a selfie break.” With great comic timing, she demonstrated the need for this freedom by miming a conversation on her phone several times throughout her recital.

Afterwards, the cast performed brief sketches inspired by Perkins, all created in that moment. In the first, a minister receives a phone call while in the middle of marrying a couple. One of the performers, off to the side, was on the other end of that call, playing the minister’s partner. The couple must comfort the minister after she has an argument. Later, the father answers a call, to his children’s annoyance.

Another sketch had a father asking his 16-year old daughter to pay the gas bill in exchange for her curfew being lifted, explaining that “with freedom comes responsibility.” Meanwhile, a 3-year old girl asks the daughter, “are you my new mommy?” In another, an evil ruler, exclaiming “so many people to kill” as she hurls lethal stilettos out windows to children, has a discussion with a servant who suggests not killing people “would improve your likability ratings.” Another one has a woman trying to delete a picture from her phone, while the phone encourages her to keep it.

Sketches usually begin with two or three performers, with more joining in as they progress, adding a new character and situation to the story. They continue until another performer rushes in and makes a sign for another sketch to begin. They are fast-paced, funny, and done without any props, costumes, or effects.

Zach Mason, Lura Barber, and Corey Smith in In Lieu of Flowers. Photo by Mike Haw.

After several more sketches, the performers each took a slip containing a poem from the audience and read the poetry during a sketch. They then attempt to incorporate what they’ve read into the sketch. So, for example, a lifeguard quotes from Shakespeare’s sonnet “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” to a woman gliding on the beach, to her delight.

Another one reads from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” “In the room the women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo.” Many of the poems seem original, such as “Kittens and beer/Kittens and beer/Don’t give kittens beer in here!” This line inspires a performer to imitate a cat and drink liquor in an office.

Another sketch had a cloud weeping while two women wondered why the sky was crying, later telling the cloud she was “a sexual being.” It’s all extremely silly and prompted great laughs from the audience.

Concluding the show, poet Donna Sills read from her poem “Technology Gods,” which she wrote during the performance, capturing the essence of everything that had gone before. It was smart, thought-provoking, and hilarious, and she also interrupted herself by answering a phone call.

In Lieu of Flowers, while still funny, has a rather different method. After an intermission, the audience returns to the theater to find the directors Lura Barber and Zach Mason handing out programs and shaking each person’s hand. The stage now has several benches, electric candles, and a wreath, placed there by Kristin O’Brien and Sam Schifrin.

Barber and Mason then select someone from the audience to interview. This evening, the audience member was Corey Smith, who came down to sit with Barber and Mason on the center benches. The questions ranged from easy to rather deep, such as her parents’ names, what kind of work she did, and how she would like to be remembered. Barber and Mason ask their questions gently, often using humor.

Afterwards, the cast arranges the benches to form pews, as though at a funeral. One by one they get up to speak as one of the people from Corey’s life. They use her answers to flesh out their characters. For instance, a person Corey helped in a pro bono kidnapping case becomes Max, who states “Corey got me off,” before explaining what she meant.

Many of the family and friends get a drink from the bar in front, which Corey wanted at her funeral. Her mother Ann, a minister at the Disciples of Christ, offers a hilarious prayer to “whatever greater spirit is out there.” Her stepsister Jaime, constantly in movement, explains that she’s “in between workouts.” They frequently mention how thoughtful Corey was, that being a word she used often in her interview. Her stepmother Di remarks, “thoughtful is the only thing that comes to mind.” Mike, her husband, exclaims, “I never had an unironed shirt,” and explains that before going to bed, they would have “pillow think,” lying in bed silently thinking.

In between, the cast does sketches inspired by the interview, including one about Corey’s “secret go fish club,” and Mike asking her parents for permission to marry her. It is a laugh-out loud performance throughout, and amazing to consider every performance will be different. Be sure to catch it!

Running Time: Approximately two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.

Interplay: Poetic Resistance and In Lieu of Flowers plays through June 17, 2018, at the D.C. Arts Center – 2438 18th Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at 202-462-7833, or purchase them online.