Magic Time!

The random adventures of a theater buff in DC

Month: March, 2013

FIST (Fighting Improv Smackdown Tournament)

If you’re a fan of the spectator sport that is improv, you’ve gotta check out the cheap treat that Washington Improv Theater offers each year around this time: FIST, in which 67 teams of three compete to move on to the next level. At each show, four teams perform, and audience members vote to pick the two best. (Yeah, it’s got a bracket, just like March Madness, but FIST is goo-gobs more fun.)

Because each show is different, you won’t see what I saw the other night. But I’ll bet you’ll have a hoot. The team members in FIST seem relative newcomers to the game, and skill levels can vary—but the laugh-out-loud payoffs abound. Dozens of times I saw someone do something or heard someone say something and thought to myself, “Wow, that’s so good. Someone should write that down! And perform it again!” But of course, inspired improv evaporates in the instant it’s invented, and you just have to console yourself knowing you were lucky enough to be there when it happened.

I’ve raved about Washington Improv Theater here before. But I have to recommend again the company’s signature iMusical, which is performed at some, but not all, FIST shows. (Yes, they really make up iMusical on the spot, before our very eyes, bouncing off an audience suggestion,  creating original music and lyrics that could give many a Broadway showtune a run for the money.) A troupe of six seasoned zanies (plus musical director Travis Ploeger) sync in mysterious ways, their wondrous bits to perform. Really, it’s as if they’ve hacked into each other’s brains—and it’s giggles in, giggles out.

FIST runs through April 13. Catch it while you can.

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A Behanding in Spokane

Martin McDonagh is one of my favorite living playwrights. I can’t quite explain why. Something about the way he makes nuttiness hilarious. Something about the way his humor is at once dark as night, grisly as gristle, and light as a souffle. His weird stuff just keeps on surprising in a most peculiarly satisfying way. I don’t know how else to put it.

So of course I had to check out the new production of McDonagh’s A Behanding in Spokane at the Keegan Theatre. And what a delightfully demented headtrip it was.

The story is loony. It really is about a long-ago dismembered hand and its owner’s twisted quest to find it. Yeah, I know: What could be funny about that? Well, trust McDonagh to make it so.

I saw the Broadway production starring Christopher Walken as Carmichael, the one-handed wonder of a main character. Mark A. Rhea doesn’t quite command the stage as Walken did (who could, really?), but you have to hand it to him (groan), he comes darn near close.

We meet Carmichael in a seedy dump of a hotel room where he has come to rendezvous with a couple scammers who have led him to believe they can sell him his old hand. They are a hysterical twosome, excellently performed: Toby (played by Manu Kumasi), a young black man given comedically to intermittent weeping, and his white girlfriend, Marilyn (Laura Herren), the least unhinged character in the play and, in a way, its earnest reference point for logic as all bizarreness breaks loose.

But for my money the most memorable character in this production turned out to be Mervyn, the hapless hotel desk clerk. Mervyn has a monologue that on paper has some of  Behanding’s funniest writing, but as performed by Bradley Foster Smith, it became a showstopper. This actor brought cadences and inflections to the text that would have made the playwright cheer. May I suggest that McDonagh meet Smith someday and write for him some more?

If you’ve never before seen anything by McDonagh, a word of advice: Leave all your expectations at home. Just catch this show at Keegan.

Of only one thing can you be certain: You’ll need both hands to applaud.