Improv theatre. I used to be really into it. Oh, back when I lived in Edmonton, we’d go to long-form improv shows every Monday night and sometimes on the weekend too. Edmonton has a great long-running improv troupe called Die Nasty that’s been running every Monday for nearly two decades, and I was such a fan.
Oh, the memories. The season whether they were in the Old West and had a talking mule. The one where they were in Rome. The one where they were in space and the funniest character was a puppet. Star improviser Mark Meer and his Dr. Doom costume that morphed into space villain to evil knight to any number of things. The 53 hour Soap-a-thon every fall that my roommate and I were crazy enough to spend all weekend at more than once. The guest stars they got from Dana Anderson’s connections with Second City: Mike Myers, Joe Flaherty, Nathan Fillion…
And a young cast member named Ron Pederson, always one of the best performers, who we, the regular audience, had to wave goodbye to after he was recruited by MADtv and went off into the world.
Impromptu Splendor, running now as part of the SummerWorks festival, is mostly a nostalgia trip for me and a chance to see Ron do improv again. Still, it’s a good show in it’s own right, and I suppose I should offer some kind of review instead of getting all starry-eyed and pining for the old Die Nasty days.
The National Theatre of the World is a Toronto improv group featuring Ron and Second City veterans Matt Baram and Naomi Snieckus. The idea behind Impromptu Splendor is that they take a famous playwright and improvise a play in the style of that playwright during the hour they have on stage. Someone from the audience picks the name of the playwright out of a hat at the end of the previous show, so they do have a bit of time to prepare, but it’s mostly just to pick proper costumes and design a simple set.
Obviously this leads to a different show every night, and if there’s one thing I know from seeing many improv shows it’s that the quality can vary greatly from one show to the next, so reviewing is kind of a fruitless endeavour. But on the night we attended, the playwright they were doing was David Mamet, and based on words the audience yelled out at the beginning was called The Perverted Metronome, about an office that sold aluminium siding.
So, as you can imagine, there was intrigue, betrayal, terse dialogue, a romantic subplot, a subplot about pederasty, and very generous use of the word “fuck.” The thing you hear most often from people who haven’t seen this kind of improv before is disbelief that everything was made up on the spot. For myself, though, being very familiar with Ron Pederson, my expectations for a brilliant, funny show were very high. It’s a credit to the cast that they almost met them.
Impromptu Splendor has three shows left in their SummerWorks run: August 13 at 10:30, August 15 at 4:30, and August 16 at 6:30. The playwright for the show on the 13th is Tennessee Williams. Should be a good one. See the SummerWorks website for schedule and ticket info. National Theatre of the World, meanwhile, have a regular show in Kensington Market and a new show starting in October. See their site for info.