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It's Just-spring and the world is improv-luscious

The Chicago Improv Festival returns

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Chicago takes its improv seriously, and there's no better proof of that than the Chicago Improv Festival. Now in its 15th year, this weeklong fest features more than 75 acts at ten venues. Here are highlights for each day.

Mark Sutton has stepped down after five years as the CIF's artistic director, but he just can't seem to stay away. He'll perform at the fest's opening show on Monday, pairing up with longtime Annoyance Theatre colleague Mick Napier (8 PM, 4830 N. Broadway, $10-$15). Sutton and Napier share the bill with Scram.

An all-female trio called the Playboys headline Tuesday's sole show. They'll be onstage in the E.T.C. space at Second City (6:30 PM, 1608 N. Wells, $15-$20), where all three members have ties: Kate Duffy used to teach there, Rachael Mason and Susan Messing still do. Naturally, the Playboys can be found on a bill with All Girl Revue from LA.

You might not guess it from the name, but Dominizuelan is one thoroughly Chicago-centric duo. The Reader readers' choice for best improv troupe of 2010, Wendy Mateo and Lorena Diaz are known for drawing on our town's characters for material (8 PM, ComedySportz, 929 W. Belmont, $10-$15). They share the bill Wednesday with Chicago's Ed & Kath and with 1 World on 1 Stage, which will showcase improvisers from five countries.

If seeing her with the Playboys isn't enough, you can get another helping of Susan Messing on Thursday, in Messing With a Friend, her weekly collaborative show at Annoyance. This time the friend is Mollie Merkel, cohost of the vaudeville-style The Mo Show. (10:30 PM, 4830 N. Broadway, $10-$15).

Dominizuelan may've won our reader poll, but Cook County Social Club was the Reader critic's choice for best improv group of 2010. CCSC takes improv's "yes and" ethos to unusual extremes. Performing Friday (8:30 PM, Second City Skybox, 1618 N. Wells, $15-$20), the quintet never hesitate to commit to any scenario, no matter how bizarre. They share the bill with Toronto's We're From Here.

Art imitates art imitating art at Kiss•Punch•Poem's Saturday show (8:30 PM, Playground, 3209 N. Halsted, $15-$20), which also features See You Thursday from Columbus, Ohio. The audience writes poetry that New York-based KPP act out; then they compose a new poem about the performance. Bring your rhyming dictionary.

Finally, it's been said that in Russia, comedy laughs at you. But the audience should be doing plenty of chuckling at Sunday's performance by Russian Komedi, a group of Moscow expats who improvise in both Russian and English (9 PM, Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln, $10-$15). They collectivize the bill with two Chicago groups, Brouhaha and Clown Car to Sicily. —Rebecca Cohen Opens Mon 4/23. Through 4/29: Mon-Sun, various times, venues, and prices, 773-875-6616, chicagoimprovfestival.org.

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