CALENDAR GIRLS, Second City E.T.C. Calendar Girls Lillian Frances and Susan Maxman knocked the stuffing out of me the other night when the two of them, alone onstage for a little more than an hour, succeeded in creating a fully improvised one-act that was beautifully structured, filled with interesting characters, and entertaining. Whether by design or chance, the piece they ad-libbed recalled Arthur Schnitzler's play La Ronde: characters A and B have a scene, then B and C have a scene, then C and D, and so on until at the end the last character meets up with the first, neatly tying up the whole play.
In the process, Frances and Maxman created dozens of characters--bosses, adolescent friends, sleazy divorced men on the make--using only the subtlest shifts of voice and body language. Even more impressive was how well the two worked together, listening and building on whatever the other did. In a city full of terrified improvisers mucking up one another's work searching for a quick laugh, it's refreshing to see Frances and Maxman behave considerately to each other. And neither one ever seemed worried that a scene would come together or that a new character would emerge.
Of course this is improv, and results may vary on other nights. But based on how cool and trusting these two are together onstage, my bet is that they won't vary much.