Everyone was working so hard on the second night of the Stumptown Improv Festival. The Artists Repertory Theatre was packed. The festival’s charming hosts (Jed Arkley, Leon Anderson, and Erin Jean O'Regan) sounded a little hoarse. People who bought weekend passes were audibly tired of the lengthy sponsor shoutouts at the beginning of every one hour performance. I watched some poor person carrying three beers delicately and when I looked back that same person was diligently cleaning up all that spilled beer. Improv is popular and drinky! There's no bad seat in the theater, but mind the tricky aisles.
Portland homeboy improv six-some Tunnel brought some strong depictions of aggressively nude children at the beach (props to Kara Moore for her pinpoint characterization of a child's thousand-yard-stare groin rub) which reccured throughout their sketch incarnations. It thankfully interrupted another recurring component of a heterosexual couple having a serious conversation about sexual insecurities (“Are you afraid of my body, Kathy?” —Chad Parsons) which was funny but also harrowingly realistic.
Vancouver, BC award-winning improv veterans Sunday Service warmed up their audience with some hilarious attempts at fishing (“If there’s one thing I know, it’s that fish do not respond to saawng.” —Aaron Read) but drove everyone wild with their confident and physically astounding pit crew pantomime which happened in the show’s climax NASCAR family drama. Sunday Service have an exceptional style of seamless, yet super funny, fourth wall busting discussions on whether or not scenes are working, and lightning-fast abandonment of non-working goofs. I don’t know if this approach would work for every troupe. Some can get a dying joke through— flip it and reserve it—but the practice of improv lends itself to comedy k-holes, so Sunday Service’s approach made them my easy favorites of the night. I also thought their “Which constellation do you think is THE WORST?” audience prompt was the most creative one I’ve heard in awhile (they ended up with Ursa Minor, the little bear). Give a little more, get a little more, improv prompt-askers.
I am a person that likes Shakespeare in a town of people that LOOOVE Shakespeare, so the Bard-centric charm of Juliet & Juliet was not lost on me and knocked the socks off of everyone else. Minneapolis, Minnesota’s Samantha Haeli and Meghan Wolff cleverly grasped their way through verses that reminded me of Shakespeare’s more verbose characters, but never failed to land deftly on a good pun. (“In his ambivalence I find much apt attraction.” —Samantha Haeli) I do think you need to be Into Shakespeare to get Juliet & Juliet. Luckily, everyone was.
Magnet, an improv comedy school in New York, closed the night by showing everyone how scream-based physical comedy is done with their touring cast of teachers twisting themselves around the prompt of the great Swiss candy institution that is Toblerone. Lauren Olson stole a lot of scenes by repeatedly introducing a sensual convict character (prompted perhaps by Olson’s passing resemblance to Orange is the New Black’s Taylor Schilling), triggered by the smell—or even the presence really—of other people. Everything culminated in an ensemble skit about despondent Dutch student tourists trying to think of how to stay in whatever country it was they were supposed to be visiting. “What if I stayed here and made a new family from leftover dead people?” Christian Paluck inquired. Sir, you may stay as long as you like.
The Stumptown Improv Fest is throwing it so hard. I’m not sure anyone will be alive after tonight. Get your butts over to Artists Repertory Theatre and see if any tickets are left for tonight’s performances of Virginia Jack, Curious Comedy Theater, North Coast, J Names, Orange Tuxedo and The Liberators! We'll be back to recap what hilarity unfolds.