The improv games at iO’s Riff turn into a goofy, full-fledged sing-along | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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The improv games at iO’s Riff turn into a goofy, full-fledged sing-along

Lines blur between the cast and the audience.


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Riff, iO’s new late night musical improv show, plays in the theater’s private event space. It’s the only room configured to accommodate a live band, but nevertheless this choice gives off the impression Riff is a red-headed stepchild. The space has no raised stage, and this configuration shatters any physical or mental barrier between performers and audience and invites interaction and provides glimpses of the cast’s camaraderie.

Like Whose Line is It Anyway?, Riff is a short-form improv show where host Michael Jordan (no, not that one) beckons cast members to jump into games. Each game morphs into a musical: “Soap Opera,” a format for three actors to enact in overly dramatic performances, emphasizes the “opera” portion of its title by inviting its performers to show off their vibrato. Other games use hip-hop, blues, hard rock, and other musical forms. It’s worth noting the cast is composed of great singers, rappers, and warblers.

Offstage, the actors drop their facades and playfully chide castmates for odd improv choices. At the top of one scene, Keenan Camp steps out and identifies his scene partners. Dave Lyzenga receives an elaborate name, while Gary Fields’s character is christened “Gary.” Fields explodes in frustration, and the actors offstage burst into laughter and flash thumbs up to Camp for encouraging this reaction. Shots are poured by the onstage bartender Stephanie Seweryn, and the cast drinks along with the audience. The room no longer feels like a toss-away space, but rather a nook where the cast of Riff welcomes and includes everyone who walks through the door.   v

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