Ask Charna, ImprovOlympic. Although Charna Halpern has helped hundreds of young improvisers find their stage legs, she rarely takes on the role of performer herself. Given her list of duties at ImprovOlympic--producer, creative director, administrator, instructor--it's a wonder she even finds the time to sleep, let alone share the stage with her students. On most days she can be found behind the scenes, but in Ask Charna the scenes are behind her. In a format closely resembling the Armando Diaz long-form structure, Halpern doles out advice to an audience member with a nagging problem, then a rotating cast of improvisers uses the question and answer as launching points for a handful of short scenes.
Getting audience members loose enough to say their own names without giggling is usually a stretch, but creating an environment where they can put their relationship woes and personality defects under public scrutiny is another story entirely. What makes Ask Charna interesting isn't the quality of the improvisation or the premise but Halpern's uncanny ability to set the audience at ease. It would be entertaining enough to allow the performers to act out the audience members' various neuroses onstage, but by discussing her own problems frankly, Halpern draws everyone into the act. Laughter may be the best medicine, and cleverly, Ask Charna provides catharsis for performers and audience alike. --Nick Green