Review: Improv actors riff hard on the Bard in Improvised Shakespeare show

Three skilled comedians rhyme everything from pickles to juice in off-the-cuff Shakespeare show

Article Highlights

  • Attend "SHAKE IT UP!" - an interactive presentation where participants can create their own improvised Elizabethan dialogue at 2 p.m. Monday, January 21. $34. 239-597-1900
  • More info on Improvised Shakespeare Company at improvisedshakespeare.com.
The Improvised Shakespeare Company creates a fully improvised play at each performance using the language and themes of William Shakespeare. The Improvised Shakespeare Company will ofer 'SHAKE IT UP!' an interactive presentation where participants can create their own improvised Elizabethan dialogue in Naples. The workshop will be held at 2 p.m. Monday, January 21 in the Toni Stabile Building at the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts Complex. Cost is $34. Call 239-597-1900 for details.

Photo courtesy Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts

The Improvised Shakespeare Company creates a fully improvised play at each performance using the language and themes of William Shakespeare. The Improvised Shakespeare Company will ofer "SHAKE IT UP!" an interactive presentation where participants can create their own improvised Elizabethan dialogue in Naples. The workshop will be held at 2 p.m. Monday, January 21 in the Toni Stabile Building at the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts Complex. Cost is $34. Call 239-597-1900 for details.

The Improvised Shakespeare Company will ofer "SHAKE IT UP!" an interactive presentation where participants can create their own improvised Elizabethan dialogue in Naples. The workshop will be held at 2 p.m. Monday, January 21 in the Toni Stabile Building at the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts Complex. Cost is $34. Call 239-597-1900 for details.

The Improvised Shakespeare Company will offer "SHAKE IT UP!" an interactive presentation where participants can create their own improvised Elizabethan dialogue in Naples. The workshop will be held at 2 p.m. Monday, January 21 in the Toni Stabile Building at the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts Complex. Cost is $34. Call 239-597-1900 for details.

I've long been blunt about the fact that I don't have much of a taste for improv. I don't like beer, bananas or iceberg lettuce either. It's just my preference.

I can, however, recognize when it is done well. And the one-night, two-shows-only Improvised Shakespeare Company does it very, very well.

What does "improvised Shakespeare" mean? Three men, in black breeches, red hose and those cute little white linen shirts with the lace-up necks that allowed for daring peeks of heaving chests take the stage. Three men, three chairs, otherwise bare stage.

After a quick introduction, someone in the crowd yells out a title. Joey Bland, Brendan Dowling and Blaine Swen spend the next 75 minutes fashioning rhyming couplets, quatrains and verses (even a song!) from that. A Shakespearean plot filled with death, dishonor, love, tragedy, comedy and wrinkled but wise nurses unfolds by magic. These boys are good - and they do it all off the top of their heads.

Every performance of the Improvised Shakespeare Company happens in real time. The actors pluck a suggestion from the audience and put on a play based upon the Bard of Avon's dialogue, plots and characters. Every show is different. Every scene is different. Every line is different. The actors don't know what they're saying until they say it - and the results are as shockingly hilarious (most of the time) to the audience as they are to the actors themselves. Sunday's matinée halted at least three times so the actors could compose themselves.

Neapolitans are a peculiar lot, especially the types that attend improv shows. Seriously, what is it with you people? The crowd at "Broadway's Next H!T Musical" offered up "Mahjong du Tart" as a possible title. Here, at Improvised Shakespeare, the first and loudest squawk from the audience was - and I kid you not - "PICKLE JUICE!" No one was obviously pregnant, so I'm curious who's making fine with the brine. (Related: 15 Things you didn't know you could do with pickle juice)

Anyway.

Aside from a few throwaway jokes, pickles don't figure into the show. Performers adopt a rough "Romeo & Juliet" style plot with a few elements of "The Taming of the Shrew" tossed in for good measure. Names (Benvolio, Bianca, Verona, Fabrizio, Raoul) are borrowed freely from whatever play comes to mind.

If the action hits a dead end (literally - Lionel Richie's corpse makes a cameo, as does the body of the Bieber), there's always room for a song and dance number set in a dungeon. Smart staging gives each actor in the trio brief breaks to ponder where next to steer the action - and to mentally compose a grand soliloquy or breathtaking specch.

What makes Improv Shakespeare so much fun to watch - at least for anyone moderately up to date on both the Bard and pop culture - is the way that the company seamlessly blends dialogue, plot and action. Truly, this is one of the best improv shows out there.

No one expects the greatest prose in the English language, but I was amazed at the number of times I laughed out loud at the a clever off-the-ruff rhyme or an amusing couplet that seems like it slipped right out of someone's doublet. See how bad I am at rhyming?

Improv, especially when it looks easy, isn't. These actors toss off 75 minutes of impressive prose with few obvious pauses, stammers and grunts. Look back only to the first half of "Broadway's Next H!T Musical" for a show littered with "ummms" and "errs."

■ Find more information about the Improvised Shakespeare Company at improvisedshakespeare.com.

Clean your copper pans with pickle juice. Really. Email me, csilk@naplesnews.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.

Full Disclosure: Naples Daily News publisher Dave Neill is a member of the board of directors of the Philharmonic Center for the Arts.

© 2013 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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