Sad, Sad Town

Brody Theater, 1904 NW 27th, 224-0688,

Sat 10:30 pm, $6

I 'm really a sucker for depressing theater right now. Maybe the war has permeated my psyche, or maybe it's because I know the rain will end soon, everybody will get happy again and I've got to get one last melancholic fix. Whatever. I thought Sad, Sad Town, a late-night "scenario play" at the Brody Theater--a literal NW basement space of some underground charm--might be up my alley. But despite my readiness to laugh or cry, I didn't do much of either at last Saturday's performance.

Nate Halloran and Gretchen McNeely have pieced together an hour-long medley of despondent relationship scenarios, all of which theoretically inhabit the same depressing American town. Their dramatic vehicle is "sketch-prov," a fusion of sketch comedy and improvisation. Skits and characters have already been outlined, but the performers have lots of room to ad-lib at will. Halloran and McNeely blast through situation after situation, changing costume props, accents and gender at an exhausting, high energy pace. There's a lone-hostage taker negotiating with a police officer, lesbian telephone operators, a child psychotic and his psychiatrist, and Irishmen on crank. For the first twenty minutes none of the skits seems to be connected to one another. Gradually a loose narrative develops, held together by the reappearance of two news anchors reporting on the sorry state of the fictional location.

Halloran and McNeely's performances are capable and definitely on cue, but also hit-or-miss. Well-executed, funny improv is difficult to sustain for an hour, and I think most of us would just as soon avoid the possible discomfort of watching jokes fall short. Improv is fun because anything can happen, but it still demands some subtlety, and too often Sad, Sad veers toward the loud, the pronounced and the dramatic. Halloran, who has honed improv at Brody for the last five years, has a handle on the humor found in nuance and keeps audience-pandering to a minimum. Actually, the improv-seasoned audience was able to anticipate Halloran at peak moments and laughed before the moments were even delivered, which is kind of humorous on its own, just as was the vacuum cleaner randomly vibrating through the ceiling from the Mexican-food joint above. ANNA SIMON