Assume the Green Room | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Assume the Green Room

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In the frequently pointless and sometimes downright dumb world of Chicago improv, What Now? Entertainment Productions scores points for what it doesn't do and what it's not. They don't clog up their sketches with needless instructions and recitations of rules. They don't bother going for easy laughs with trite audience-participation gimmicks. They're not offensive, they're not stupid, they're not patently imitative. Sad to say, though, they're not all that interesting either.

Assume the Green Room is essentially a mindscrew, depicting conversations between actors backstage interspersed with an improvised drama onstage. We saw both the improv crew in the green room of some hick-town auditorium and the intricate series of interrelated scenes they would perform a few hours later in front of the jerkwater crowd. Chronicling the nowhere lives of farmers, diner waitresses, and poor saps at local barn dances, the scenes are refreshingly complete, always concluding logically rather than on a throwaway blackout line. The performers' ability to play multiple characters and keep track of the relatively sophisticated plot lines is pretty impressive.

The problem is that these actors are so comfortable, so at ease with their improvisational skills, that once you figure out how their complex game works the show becomes quite dull. Frequently I hungered for the machine-gun speed of traditional improv, where at least if you're bored you know there's something else coming up in a couple of minutes. Here almost every scene is performed at a blase, lackadaisical pace, making this hour in the theater seem more like two.

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