Monday, September 15, 2014

Western Unscripted! Yahoo!!

Having had a close acquaintance with improvisation, I have to admit that heading to Garry Marshall’s Falcon Theater in Toluca Lake for an evening of “give me an object/ give me an event/ give me an activity” … all essentials for any story, of course, made me skeptical.  Once you’ve encountered Paul Sill’s Story Theatre and have absorbed and digested all of his mom’s book, Improvisation for the Theatre (Viola Spolin is the grande dame of improv and her book is essentially the Bible of Theatre Games), one might wonder how that could be improved upon.  Fact is that the Impro Theatre’s The Western Unscripted delivers the goods and then some.   Directors Dan O’Connor and Stephen Kearin bring a mature cast to the stage. The authentic western set by Sandra Burns, who also did the authentic costume design puts us smack dab in the middle of a 1950’s "Oater!"
Kari Coleman and Michael Manuel in Impro Theatre’s The Western UnScripted at the Falcon Theatre.
Photo by Rebecca Asher

Cowgal Lisa Fredrickson solicits (well.. asks nicely) only two suggestions from the audience as the rest of the ensemble congregates on stage.  An earthquake and a music box with a ballerina are all they have to go on.  And, the play begins.  Lighting by Michael Becker and sound effects by Alex Caan become additional players as the story commences.

It’s tough to tell the characters without a program.  Of course, in a traditional show, the program lets us in on who’s who.  Not so for Impro.  I was having such a good time I neglected to note the characters’ names to later line up with the bios in the program.  The best part is that this company of players has rehearsed the genre of the Classic Western and their costumes define whom they eventually become as the show evolves.   Classic improv as we have been taught by Sills and locally by The Groundlings, sticks to a basic formula.  Accept the premise.  Establish a character and stick to it (unless you are doubling as a couple of the actors in Friday’s show did) and listen! while advancing the story line. 

Impro’s approach to immersing itself in the Classic Western genre succeeds.  The company is made up of well seasoned professionals who know one another and are respectful of the project.  It simply works!  It’s totally unscripted. Each player is respectful and attentive to the evolving story line.  There’s been an earthquake!  This evolves into an arc that involves an explosion at the Comstock Gold Mine,  an unscrupulous mine owner, gold, greed and chicanery. Working in the music box was a little 'iffy' but no one really cared because the audience was fully immersed and the players were having a great time.

Sadly, I didn’t make note of the actors and the characters whom they remind us of at the beginning of the second act.  All of the expected characters are there: The unscrupulous and greedy mine owner and one of his lackies, a crazy psychic lady, the tough saloon owner, a pair of ranchers who have been cheated out of their land, long lost siblings.  I’m sure I’ve missed someone, but this show is not to be missed if you enjoy on the spot creativity by professional actors who are having a wonderful time as their full length story unfolds.  The ability of the tech crew to anticipate sound and lighting cues is amazing, especially gun shots and appropriate music to fill the mood of each scene. Specific area lighting and a beauty of a blue sky backdrop fill in the gaps.

It’s fast paced entertainment with spontaneous laughter and spirited horseplay. 

The players:
Ted Cannon
Lisa Fredrickson
Brian Lohmann
Dan O’Connor
Edi Patterson
Paul Rogan
Michele Spears
Floyd Van Buskirk

For a totally entertaining evening, this is a must see. The company is made up of several other actors: guest performers as well as established members.  Every show is within the Classic Western genre, but the participants and the story lines are always changing. The audience was challenged to come back to see how talented these guys are.   Highly recommended. 

Improvised on the stage by Impro Theatre Company
The Falcon Theatre
4252 Riverside Drive
Toluca Lake, CA 91505
Wednesdays through Sundays
Closes October 5, 2014
Tickets and information:
818 955 8501 /

No comments:

Post a Comment