The Silent Movie, One Reel Productions, at Donny's Skybox Studio. Silent-film fans and anyone looking for a merry exercise in expert improv will be well served by this enormously engaging, very clever hour of vaudeville complete with title cards, live piano accompaniment, and villains with handlebar mustaches.
Part love note, part nudge in the ribs, the show (first presented at this year's Around the Coyote by Chicago Improv Festival producer Jonathan Pitts) takes an easy target for irreverent improv--what with the exaggerated facial expressions, easy emotions, and grand gestures of silent film--and turns it into a delightful romp. Much like its source material, it's old-fashioned fun with an edge.
The audience suggests a male or female lead and a basic plotline for two comedies and a melodrama. On opening night Franny bought a duck, Billy became a man, and Sara sold the farm.
The cast, dressed in black and white and performing in front of a screen lit only by a 16-millimeter film projector, is first-rate. Corri Feuerstein's repertoire of grimaces and frowns rivals Buster Keaton's, and Shannon Winpenny, with her Kewpie-doll lips, is winsome and charming. As Billy, Joe Canale so channeled Harold Lloyd that the scene mirrored Lloyd's 1922 Grandma's Boy almost to a T.
But the show belongs to the phenomenal Jonathan Mastro who, along with Mike Tutaj, warms up the crowd with a punny vaudeville routine complete with barker's hat, black cane, and soft shoe. Mastro also tickles the ivories during each scene, and is right up there with the best of today's film accompanists.