By Accident, ImprovOlympic.
The name is well chosen. Like decathlon athletes, the performers who've studied under Del Close and Charna Halpern pride themselves on displays of prowess: on speed, timing, and the ability to shift direction at a moment's notice. Such emphasis on skill is rare, but frequently at this theater skill substitutes for genuine humor or inspiration. One feels less like an audience member than an Olympics judge; it seems more appropriate to hold up a sign saying "5.9" than to applaud.
The idea behind the long-form improv By Accident is inspired: two dexterous ImprovOlympians playing a wide array of characters spontaneously generate a series of increasingly complicated overlapping comedy scenes and monologues, underscored by jazz bassist Joshua Abrams's excellent improvised riffs. The show is rather like an updated sitcom version of loopy longtime WBEZ spoken-word pioneer Ken Nordine's late-night forays into "word jazz," playing on the parallels between the jazz musician and the improv comic.
Ethan Sandler and Ed Herbstman have mastered the verbal and physical athleticism and intense concentration required for this elaborate game, and they're smart, appealing performers. But beyond their impressive technique, there's little that's profound or memorable. The topics covered--twentysomething relationships, doctor's office visits, sadistic wrestling coaches, sexual office politics--are all familiar. And though you may gasp at the adroitness with which Sandler and Herbstman whiz through their characters, By Accident will probably fade from memory as quickly as the last sports event you saw.