Review by Danielle Rosvally
Hello dear readers; I am reporting to you from the front lines of Dani’s Grand Bardopalooza Adventure: 2K14. Over the next three days, I will be attending three different American Shakespeare remixes and reviewing them right here just for you. First up: Chicago’s Improvised Shakespeare Company. Stop back later this week to catch the rest of this Epic Shakes-Series.
(Cambridge) I have wanted to see the Improvised Shakespeare Company in performance for years. Years. They’ve fallen on and off my radar several times since I first discovered their existence and, despite my living in veritable theatre Meccas for the entirety of my earthly existence, I’ve not yet had a chance to catch their show. That is, until tonight. And believe me, they didn’t disappoint. The shtick is simple: based on an audience suggestion, the Improvised Shakespeare Company presents a long-form improv piece in the form of a Shakespearean drama. Yup; that’s right; you choose the title, and three dudes write you a play before your very eyes.
Suffice to say that I was more than disappointed when some frat boy audience member yelled “Real World: Scotland” as the title suggestion (my own, cleverly crafted in Shakespearean style, was “The Lamentable Tragedy of the Moor-Duchess of Verona”, but I just couldn’t shout it out as quickly as frat boy could grunt his “clever” stylings… not that I’m bitter). That being said, the ISC took their audience offering and ran with it to the point that even my shriveled academic heart was fully enthralled.
Because darn do these guys know their Shakespearean verse, plot, and language structure! The basic outline of a Shakespearean piece (leaning more towards the history/tragedy end of the spectrum, but also applying to most comedy) is such:
Prologue: Not always present, but when it is comes in the form of a too-long piece spoken by an unnamed symbolic character about what’s about to happen, and praising the audience’s imaginations.
Act One: Main plot established, lead character(s) introduced.
Act Two: Main plot furthered; first semi-related side-plot introduced. Secondary characters introduced.
Act Three: Main and secondary plot forwarded; ridiculous unrelated comedic interlude.
Act Four: All three plots crash together in some conglomeration that brings the characters to the brink of revelation.
Act Five: Everything works out; lots of people die/get married.
…and guess what? That’s exactly how the night went. The minute I checked in with my inner scholar to figure out what I wanted to see next (“Hey, Dani, what would Will write here?” “Oh, obviously it’s time to introduce the love interest.”), that’s exactly what would happen. To a degree that was nearly incredible; like they were reading my mind or something (in actuality, we were all just reading Shakespeare’s).
As if this weren’t enough, the actors really understood the structure of Shakespeare verse and poetry. There was a clear distinction between scenes in prose and scenes in verse. The scenes performed in verse were done in flawless rhymed iambic lines that sometimes bordered eerily upon iambic pentameter… who improvises in iambic pentameter I ask you?!?! These guys! They even managed to include hallmark Shakespeareanism (like the unending lateral metaphors which seem to extend past their usefulness, and of course the trademark soliloquy). These signature moves made the night feel more Elizabethan and kept the guys on course with bardy-flavored treats to integrate into their scenes.
And how could I not mention the music? I speak from personal experience when I say that it’s hard enough to improvise song lyrics which rhyme and are sensible, combine this with crafting harmonies, singing in tandem, and maintaining the correct “period” style and you have a Herculean task. These actors managed with gusto, and had the audience rolling in the aisles to boot. Well done, team. Well done.
I wish I could tell you to go catch the show because it truly was a spectacular evening, but unfortunately ISC at ImprovBoston was a one night only event. That being said, I’ll be stalking their Facebook page to make sure I don’t miss them should they return to our fair city; and if I’m ever in Chicago I’ll be certain to visit them at the iO theatre.
Thanks for a night of brilliant improv, ISC. You definitely brought joy to this scholar’s jaded heart.