Big Belly
All Jane, No Dick
Through Jan 26

All successful improvisation groups follow one of two methods: They either 1.) Engage in a series of completely unrelated skits, each one beginning with and gathering strength from audience suggestions, or 2.) Link their skits together so recurring stories, images, characters, and--on great nights--themes, emerge. Method 2 is obviously the more difficult of the two--it's hard to make an improvised scene last 5 minutes, let alone an hour and a half or more. But when done properly, it's invariably hilarious and fascinating. Method 1 is easier, but can still be a lot of fun. Requesting suggestions at the start of each scene makes the crowd feel like they are part of the show, and crowds love that.

The spontaneous nature of improv demands that bad skits will happen eventually. It is an inevitable truth. Improv groups that practice one or both of the aforementioned methods will not be harmed when such skits rear their ugly heads. With recurring storylines, bad skits are actually scenes in a cohesive whole, and thus, will at least advance the plot or develop a character. With audience participation, failed skits can be as entertaining as successful ones, because the skit is directly influenced by the audience, so everyone is failing together.

For groups that practice neither method, bad skits are just bad skits, and can drag down the energy of an otherwise funny evening of improv. The ladies behind All Jane, No Dick; Deanna Moffit, Joslin Larson, and Stacey Hallel, form one such group, and their show suffers as a result.

The trio has opted for the string-of-unconnected-skits approach, but sans the audience suggestions to give each unconnected skit a starting point. To begin a scene, the women just wander out into the space and hope something happens. Sometimes they start out sitting in chairs, and other times they stand up, but almost always their scenes involve a lot of talking and little else. This can be very funny, for each actress possesses the wit and comic timing necessary to turn a phrase, but it can also be very boring and/or painful when they can't think of anything to say.

Physical comedy is an important element of improv; it gives the audience something to look at and can save a scene that is running out of verbal ideas. The women of All Jane clearly have what it takes to get physical (in particular, Joslin Larson can garner huge laughs with a simple flip of her red head), but often seem afraid to try. They also have great successes when all three of them get involved in a scene, but again, this phenomenon doesn't happen nearly as often as it should. Too many scenes occur with just two of the ladies floundering away, while the third waits in the wings, smiling awkwardly instead of entering and adding a whole new dimension.

It's important to mention, however, that these drawbacks were only so glaring because there was no method to smooth them out. No improv is seamless--indeed, part of its charm is that it can't be seamless--but with a basic structure its rocky parts become just more building blocks in the overall arc of the show. All Dick can be very funny, but like all improv groups, it can also be very unfunny. Its ultimate downfall is that we notice both equally.