Pepsi Can’t Save You Now: “Somewhereville”

Presented by ImprovBoston
Directed by David Thomas

March 9 – 30, 2018
40 Prospect Street in Central Square
Cambridge, MA
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Review by Diana Lu

(Cambridge, MA) Halfway between improvised comedy and two-act play, Somewhereville tells the hilariously horrific tale of a post-apocalyptic nightmare in which the world has ended because of – audience suggestion? In its final installment, it was the Kardashians who were responsible for destroying civilization.  We learn in the three-character monologue opening that the “KKK-KK” has created an idiocracy-like hellscape via excess consumerism and social media over consumption.
Set in Improv Boston’s mainstage theater, Somewhereville is IB’s most recent feature-length narrative improv production. In my opinion, narrative improv is one of the most difficult forms of comedic improvisation to perform well. The overall concept, story arc, and sometimes character archetypes are pre-determined, but everything else is made up on the spot. This format limits the players’ creative freedom, which makes it difficult as an improvised set. As a narrative piece, it is additionally difficult to create the dramatic conflict, character arcs, and smooth pacing that a playwright would be able to write into a scripted play. To do both successfully and consistently for an hour-long show is a great credit to the directors, producers, and players.

The world created from the audience suggestion the night I saw the show was especially challenging. It was a world in which all but the most shallow human interactions were replaced by vlog and instagram posts. Characters could only disclose their most shallow traits, most of which were still often ignored by the oblivious other members of society.  Because complex characters and deep relationships weren’t possible, the show had to rely on plot movement and whimsical jokes to deliver the funny. Nevertheless, the deft cast was able to connect and perform a show that was consistently engaging and fun throughout. I can only imagine what these players would be able to do with a premise that wasn’t so severely limiting.

Topical and political issues were hinted at but largely unexplored. The women in the performance created interesting characters and things to say, such as the mom who was torn between raising a strong, intelligent daughter, but nevertheless needed to give her plastic surgery so she would survive the Kardashageddon, or the teen who called out Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi commercial fiasco. However, what they put down was not picked up and further developed, and I’m not sure if this was intentional or not. I appreciated the players acknowledging these limitations, such as when one character knowingly said that she “wasn’t equipped to continue the conversation” regarding America’s racial issues. This show was well done and a fun, entertaining comedy experience, but audience members looking for complex themes or provocative social commentary will be disappointed.

The stage was minimally decorated (though more than most improv shows), and the players were perfectly costumed in what I would describe as hipster Rambo attire. The musical underscoring also enhanced the tone and made the entire show feel more polished and movie-like. Though Somewhereville’s run has ended, Improv Boston’s mainstage features are a great way to sample the dramatic range that improv can achieve, as well as to enjoy some lighthearted comedy on a Saturday night.

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