Brody Theater, 224-0688
Through Dec 2

It's hard enough for most people to imagine going on stage as an actor night after night, facing the audience live, without the benefit of another take. But imagine if you had to go on stage with no costumes, no scenery, no music and most importantly, no script?

Welcome to improv. For five years, the Brody Theater has been both the proving pad and training ground for Portland's improvisational scene. Tucked away underneath the Bull Ring Northwest restaurant in deep northwest Portland, the Brody is home to a series of workshops and classes for students who want to learn improv. And on the weekends, 8-10 members of the improv troupe perform in a spontaneous and unrehearsed play.

The night I attended, the evening was called Diabolical Experiments, and was directed by troupe member Kate Polland. Brody artistic director Tom Johnson informed attendees that the loose storyline for the evening would be a trial, but that its subject would be based on audience suggestions. The first act's jury selection theme was "Where are you from?" while the second act's jury deliberation was based on the audience-suggested headline/case "Boy Bitten Badly."

The eight cast members spontaneously adopted characters, requiring their fellow actors to react to whatever they came up with. As each character was questioned by counsel, they slipped into flashbacks illustrating their lives, requiring the other actors to adopt even more personas and accents as they became flashback characters.

It's hard to qualitatively judge improv theater--by its very nature, it isn't linear. Each actor must react quickly to whatever their fellows throw at them, and in the best of cases, their reactions are entertaining and/or funny. Audiences today are so weaned on improv being comedy-only, thanks to such programs as Whose Line Is It Anyway?, that they may be disappointed that the Brody shows are not laugh-a-minute. However, there was much to smile about: Kameoka and Wichmann were very creatively funny on the night I was there, mainly because each took their character archetype to its extreme, while Blendl was particularly humorous because his characterization got weirder and wonkier as the night progressed.

Because the Brody Theater production changes directors and base story lines each week, what you see as an audience may differ greatly from anything described above. It's clear though that it's worth a trip or two to the Brody to see stage work that really is seat-of-the-pants acting.