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The Awesome Show

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The Awesome Show, Improv-Olympic. Presumably this snappy hour-long piece, starring Peter Gwinn and Meagan O'Brien and directed by Jim Carlson, was developed through improvisation--but apparently according to a paradigm of "No" rather than "Yes, and..." From opening moment to charmingly daft finish, this show is built on antagonism. Propelled by Gwinn's precisely overplayed inferiority complex, the duo bicker, complain, and strain to upstage each other, both in and out of character, to hilarious effect. A couple duds lurk in the rapid-fire collage, but in a town where such revues often amount to rehearsed versions of some long form, this one refreshingly goes where improv generally can't, incorporating intelligent conflict without running aground.

It helps that the script is a punchy bit of tossed-off jive, more in the hyperlucid Monty Python vein than the broad SNL mode. Its strategies of denial and passive-aggression are consistently and cunningly employed, and the script eschews the blue for the smart but never slips into esoteric inaccessibility. The cast put it over the top: world-class performers with a rare chemistry, Gwinn and O'Brien sell the straightforward and absurd with equal aplomb. High points include O'Brien as an artsy drunk who "loooves" everything; Gwinn as a lecherous oldster playing the tenure card; and a deliciously circular "debate" on homeland security. Relative neophyte Emily Wilson adds the finishing touch with sprightly deadpan work in a number of incidental roles.

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