Gameshow!, Low Sodium Entertainment, at Stage Left Theatre, and Sex Scenes, Low Sodium Entertainment, at Stage Left Theatre. Though improv and audience interaction go hand in hand, it can be daunting to strike a balance between the two. If a troupe uses too few of the audience's suggestions, it invariably gets accused of using a script; if it relies too heavily on them, it's dismissed as slow and amateurish. But it's not always a lose-lose proposition to mix scripting with improvisation, as Low Sodium Entertainment's imaginative Gameshow! proves.
This late-night production offers a behind-the-scenes look at a public-access cable game show. Like most non-network fare, it's strictly a dime-store operation: the show's budget is so small that the custodian doubles as the announcer. Egos flare when the crew discovers that there may be a talent scout in the audience; with all the bumbling and constant jockeying for attention, it's a wonder the show goes on at all.
Director Aaron Daniel Haber and the eight ensemble members have studied their subject well. From the self-absorbed host's vapid banter ("You're a cellist? So I guess you play the viola") and condescending remarks ("If we were playing the Stupid Game, you'd be a million ahead") to the warm-up comedian's lame observational humor, they've got the genre down pat. Even more impressive, the troupe actually improvises with rather than around the two audience members plucked to act as contestants. One of the troupe's first forays into structured, character-based improv, Gameshow! is uncommonly good.
The same can't be said of Low Sodium's first attempt at a fully scripted play. Written and directed by company member (and Gorilla Theater veteran) Rebecca J. Ennals, Sex Scenes takes a potentially interesting topic and sucks all the life out of it. Worse is her clunky staging: characters routinely "perform" sex acts on each other from opposite ends of the stage. If there's one thing Chicago theater doesn't need, it's more bad simulated sex and unoriginal commentary on life, love, and relationships. Unfortunately, this narcissistic, self-congratulatory comedy is guilty on all counts. --Nick Green