Phamily and Bad Advice, pH Productions, at Stage Left Theatre. In its latest improv experiment, pH Productions tosses dysfunctional family dynamics into a blender with generous helpings of madcap character work and anything-goes goofiness. Long-form improvisation at its most intelligent, pHamily is sufficiently rule bound to provide structure but democratic enough to accommodate equal input from its rotating eight-member cast. The troupe's use of one-on-one interactions to drag the skeletons out of the family closet is refreshing in a form where the quest for an overarching theme often eclipses basic scene work. Less effective is the show's editing mechanism, whereby performers periodically break character midscene to ask the audience leading yes-or-no questions. The ensemble was probably having too much fun with the evening's premise--a librarian with a Byronic streak seeks a date for the annual librarians' ball with the help of his precocious son--to fuss much about the form. The production rollicks along at a pace that speaks well of the troupe's collective sense of rhythm.
The company slows the tempo on Thursday nights with Bad Advice, a modest four-member piece directed by company member Jeff Ford that intercuts scenes with monologues. Audience participation is unusually limited for a company so good at using its collective energy in larger shows. But the cast is still adept at using whatever's at hand: Tony Janning fired off the best opening line I've ever heard at an improv show, taking a dull suggestion from the audience and using it to set up a bizarre exploration of the politics of apartment living.