By Bill Kamberger
Improv is life; after all, we do it every day. And since many would claim that theater is life, performing improv in a theater seems only natural.
There’s a reason, though, that even troupes specializing in improv tend to focus on short skits. Keeping a story engaging over the course of an entire evening is challenging enough with the aid of a polished script, much less one being assembled on the fly, and the effort to maintain the charade in a way that is funny as well often becomes merely laughable.
Leave it to Fells Point Corner Theatre to rush in where most would fear to tread. Fear is the operative word in this case. Their Late Night Double Feature Improv Show, “from the twisted imagination of Michael Furr,” is an extended spoof of horror flicks, with Act I mimicking the style of a 1960s haunted house chiller, and Act II resembling a slasher pic of the present day.
Upping the ante even further, Late Night, which isn’t actually being performed late at night, employs a rotating cast of fifteen actors – I saw nine of them last night, unfortunately not including Furr himself or the 2016 Broadway World honoree as Best Actor in Baltimore, Larry Malkus – with the promise that no two performances will be alike.
I’m a bit skeptical about that. In time-honored improv tradition, the audience is encouraged to provide a handful of prompts for the performers to riff on, such as the name of the specter stalking the houseguests and the reason for his murderous rampage, but most of these prove to be red herrings.
The basic plot structure and character lineaments appear to be pre-established, making this exercise more like commedia dell’arte than genuine improv. None of that really matters, though, so long as it’s amusing. On the night I attended, the cast achieved about a 50-50 split between the hysterical and mere hysteria.
Act I was definitely the more successful of the two, in both stylistic coherence and sustained hilarity. Especially notable is its running gag of accenting even the most trivial foreboding with a dramatic shift of lighting, a sinister blast of music, and a freeze by the characters in a suitably exaggerated expression of terror. The MVP at my performance was Carly Ball, who always managed to find the most perfectly inappropriate pose.
Despite having a more outlandish premise, not to mention a higher body count, Act II began to resemble a Saturday Night Live sketch that refuses to die. And though the company’s improv-like ingenuity in utilizing the set and some of the special effects from FPCT’s previous ghost play, Mark Scharf’s The Quickening, is laudable, it soon served to remind us that “The Creeping Doom,” as we titled the movie being parodied, was doing little to quicken the pulse. Better – or should I say worse? – luck next time.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with one intermission.