Washington Improv Theater

by John Stoltenberg

I don’t know why I keep going back to Washington Improv Theater. By now you’d think I’d remember that it’s only going to make me laugh. A lot. Like, till it hurts. And who needs to laugh that much anyway?

I mean, you could let out a whole six month’s worth of guffaws in just the space of a 75-minute show—like the improvised musical I saw the other night at Source as part of Capital Fringe. Cheekily titled “iConfess,” it featured nine preternaturally clever actors (Matt Berman, Mark Chalfant, Catherine Deadman, Sarah Donnelly, Karen Lange, Justin Purvis, Curtis Raye, Greer Smith, Letty Tomlinson) and one insanely talented pianist-accompanist (Travis Ploeger), who also allegedly directed.

The whole thing bounced off a few randomly selected slips of paper on which audience members had written some deep, dark, secret confession.

I mean, srsly: How can a show be “directed” if it didn’t exist before the moment it’s performed?

And those various songs and musical interludes with made-up-on-the-spot lyrics that kept the audience in stitches? Well, didn’t it bother anyone that it was all ephemeral? Like, unless there was a rogue video cam in the theater, all that brilliance was just going to vanish. Like, pfft.

When Hollywood cranks out a so-called comedy with big-name stars and a multimillion-dollar budget and some dumb-and-dumber humor and you end up laughing maybe one-hundredth as much as you laugh at a WIT performance (for which the actors didn’t even get paid and your ticket cost chump change), at least the movie will endure, you know? Like, on cable, Netflix, your next unbearaby boring airline flight.…

OK, I know what you’re thinking. There are plenty of videos on Washington Improv Theater’s website and YouTube channel—clips representing highlights from a shipload of shows. So some of that inspired and tuneful lunacy has been preserved for posterity, just like in the movies!

Don’t be fooled. I’ve looked at some of those vids. They don’t begin to capture what happens in the theater when WIT runs amok. I know; I’ve seen their shows. And let me tell you: You have to be there with your butt in a seat to really get it. That’s when you truly risk laughing so hard you fall over gasping for air. Don’t think you can get the full effect otherwise.

You have to be there live.

Because that’s when WIT kills.