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Airbags

Being critical comes easy to me. For better or worse, It's a "gift" that Iíve been blessed with for as long as I can remember. As a child and into my teenage years, I drove my family crazy criticizing and nit-picking their every fault and shortcoming. In addition to the glory that comes with an acute sense of what's good and bad or right and wrong, I find that I am also blessed with the natural tendency to argue. Day or night, I'll pick a fight and defend my views, tear yours apart, and on the odd occasion, I might actually give you the benefit of doubt or even agree with you that you have a point that might be valid. As I grew older and wiser (yes, a little wiser after all these years) I have learned to harness my potentially negative powers for good and not evil. I'm not saying that I'll be a pushover and agree with everything everyone says always, but now I know which battles to fight and win. My bad powers can be used for good, in the form of written reviews.

The problem with reviews, if you want to pick out just one thing, is that as the reviewer, it is very easy to fall into the trap of being so caught up with the details of whatever it is that you are reviewing that you forget to interject your own opinion. While taking in a live music show, the occasional play, even reading a book or watching a movie I will scribble furiously every little detail and moment I think will be important to remember later when I go home and stare at the computer screen while attempting to spew my opinions into a review. And that's a deep hole to fall into. As a reviewer, you not only have the responsibility of not only re-creating a moment and bringing it to life for those not originally present, but you also have to be critical and analytical and dissect your subject.

Not so with "The Twilite-Like Zone," the newest subject matter tackled by the Free Associates at the Royal George Theatre. The Free Associates use parody and improvisational comedy in their productions, and subject matter is drawn from literature film, televsion and music. So, I could tell you every last detail from notes I scribbled down while watching the show on opening night, but truth be told, I didn't take many notes. The show is going to be different every performance and is based on suggestions taken from the audience. The ensemble appeared on stage and surrounded the lead, who later was named Denise Marie after a member of the audience. They asked questions such as, "What is you least favorite thing to do around the house?" which an audience member answered, "Be awake." This suggestion was later used as a commercial for a sleeping pill to prevent being awake in between acts. A setting, occupation, and other details -- such as the fear of cats -- were all plucked from the audience and used through out the hour-long play. As you can probably guess, "The Twilite-Like Zone" is a parody of the the popular television show The Twilight Zone. The show's premise -- that anyone can be a part of a world in which the abnormal and occult turn against them and leave them in an isolated reality, with a moral lesson learned at the end of each episode -- was used to form the backbone of the Free Associates first show of the 2004 season.

I'm not the biggest fan of improvisational comedy. It might almost be a sin to admit that in Chicago, where it seems like there's an improv troupe on every block. My dislike, like all opinions, is entirely subjective and based purely on intense jealously. It formed in college after watching my school's improv groups crack up audience after audience. I guess a part of me always wished to be that funny, that witty on demand. Sure, I can crack somebody up, but it's usually the odd occurrence and not because I asked you to name something you eat for breakfast and then made a song up about it a minute later. I harbored my jealously and have safely avoided any form of entertainment that even suggested improvisational comedy or had improv in its title. I wanted to walk into the theater to watch this show and not like it, so I could be edgy and critical. I wanted to not be nice. I think it was due to a long day at work, a toothache, and the obscene number of reviews I've been reading by Ms. Sarcastic herself, Dorothy Parker. Instead I was surprised to find myself laughing as six people told the story of a ailurophobic female carpenter living on Venus being tortured by unrealistic demands from the Venutian Counsel.

The moral of that night's story was that we dream for things that are unrealistic and never to be attained, but that everyone is together in this struggle. A little trite, but true and delivered in a funny and witty manner. The best part of improv is not always when it's funny and witty. I found myself delighting when the actors occasionally were flustered or unsure of what to say next. The moments were brief and always transitioned into a new area for the show to move on to. It was great to watch the faces of two ensemble members as they clutched onto a prop and began to nervously dance on stage. You could almost see their brains churning out what-do-we-do-next? ideas and send them floating over their heads. And who doesn't like to see an actor stifle a laugh or almost lose it and break out laughing hysterically because the audience is laughing so hard?

So the show did melt my cruel, cold, heart for an hour and has left me to rethink the whole genre of improv theatre. Though the show could be considered a little preachy, the laughter and wit deliver the goods in an amusing an light-hearted way that was much easier to take.

You be the judge. "The Twilite-Like Zone" runs March 12-indefinitely at the Royal George Theater Center. Check out www.thefreeassociates.com for more information.

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Comments

Ramsin / March 12, 2004 4:26 AM

Great review, Suzanne. Good stuff--I also have issues with improv. I can't stand watching people manipulate invisible objects. It hurts.

Aaron Samus / March 13, 2004 10:25 PM

How about a review of the show and not yourself?

I mean, sure, call me critical, but I would like to know more about the show and less about you. But like I said, I'm probably being too critical. It all began when I was a little boy on the family farm in Idaho...

Anonymous / March 14, 2004 12:34 AM

Okay,
so you had some jealousy issues in college, and you may very well hate all chicago improv, but where's the review??? I mean were they successful, or what? I think you have some clarity issues. what's the deal with the autobiography?

suzanne / March 14, 2004 6:49 PM

What do you want me to say?
Tell me what you want me to say and I'll write it.

Sorry,but it doesn't work that way and I don't think it should. If you don't like my review or writing style,think I have clarity issues, etc,so be it. This is what I wrote,this is it. You can submit work if you think you could do a better job or you want to read something that you agree with all the time.

Ramsin / March 14, 2004 8:49 PM

Hey woah, people, take it easy. Suzanne made it very clear from the beginning of this article that it was about her reaction to and attitude towards improv, not necessarily just the show itself. If anything, you should be appreciating that she was clear on that fact before discussing the show, rather than providing an opinion without background.

Aaron Samus / March 17, 2004 2:28 PM

The article was about her attitude towards improv and not about the show itself. So then the article is masquerading as a review of the show.

Perhaps the article could be better titled as "My Love/Hate Relationship with Improv...Mostly Hate", or "My Personal History With Improv Theatre as Inspired by The Twilight-Like Zone". Or better yet, entitle it "Vocal Orangutans Sporting Bazookas, Lemurs With Dilusions of Grandeur, and A Badger I Call Chuck" and have it done with. The article has little to nothing to do with the show.

While I sincerely believe in giving the reader a frame of referece for one's opinion of a show, I don't think that the article should be about that opinion and the author's bias in lieu of an actual review. There are a number of sentences in the article that mention the show. Bravo. But there are a multiplicity of others that speak of anything but the show. I've no idea who's in it, who directed it, or even if (regardless if the material or format was bad) the performances were any good. What about the lights? Or the ushers? They're also making it up as they go along, so were they as bad as the show?

It's all well and good to have a frame of reference; and equally well and good to know the author's history with improvisational theatre. But taking the opportunity to expound upon these things when one should be writing a review is a bit of a disservice to the readers.

Ralph Kass / March 17, 2004 2:58 PM

I think people looking at the title would assume it's a review; it was sorely lacking as a review. I don't mind reading this type of autobiographical article, but I think her attitudes towards criticism and improv were beaten to death. The only thing of value to me were the comments about the group's ability to switch course and adapt; that tells me if a group can do improv or not.

Andrew / March 17, 2004 3:30 PM

As the editor of this site, I read and edit every article that appears here. I understand your points, but I think you may be a little too narrow in your expectations of what a column may be. In a column, even within the context of a review, it's widely accepted for the writer to take great liberties with the topic at hand. While some columns are very focused on a particular topic -- our own Drive-in restaurant reviews, for instance -- Media Warm & Tepid has been, from the start, very generally and haphazardly about media and entertainment. It has wandered off topic before now with little notice.

I felt Suzanne's column, discussing the cons of improvisation within the context of a performance she saw, quite appropriate and within the perameters of the column. Perhaps I should apologize for putting a misleading title on it (I was in a rush and wasn't immediately inspired), but this response seems a little much for what amounts to creative license.

 

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