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Thursday, Aug. 14, 2008

High-Energy Improv

Theater Reviews

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   The Third Annual Milwaukee Sketch and Improv Comedy Festival found a cozy, new home this year as more than 20 groups made it to the stage of the Off-Broadway Theatre over the course of three days. Busy festival-founder Matt Kemple slowed down enough to introduce almost every act to enthusiastic audiences that nearly packed the theater each evening. Groups from Chicago dominated the line-up with one coming from as far away as Kentucky, but this year there was at least one group from Milwaukee in each program.

  The festival opened Thursday with a high-energy evening featuring local group Track Jacket Revue performing a few sketchy skits, the most memorable involving a support group for Brett Favre fans. The evening ended with solid performances by a pair of Chicago groups: Size Eight and The Union. Size Eight consisted of Kerri and Megan, a pair of classy, talented women who performed bits cleverly laced with subtle shades of social commentary. The Union was Corey and Monique, a married couple performing sketches with the specific flavor of timing and delivery that only comes from two people who are spending their lives together.

  The second day of the festival was perhaps the most frenzied, featuring regular, late-night and late-late-night programs. The early show included a performance of classic bits by local all-female group Broadminded and some sharp improv by Chicago's Otis. The local Traveling Art Circus performed comedy snippets along with long-form musical improv by frenetic Chicago group pH. The show ended with Dirty Water, which turned out to be a bunch of guys from Chicago onstage pretending to be a bunch of guys from Boston in a bar having an improvisational conversation. It ended up being a lot funnier than one would expect.

  The best part of the evening, however, was the late-night improv comedy jam following the late Friday night show. Many of the festival's performers split up into two mega-groups for long-form improv. Traditional comedy dynamics were shaken-up.

  The festival's final day opened with an afternoon matinee featuring middle-school and high-school student groups including Chicago's Underage Sugar Addicts and a pair of performances by Organized Chaos, a pair of groups drawn from improv classes at Milwaukee's First Stage Children's Theater. It's interesting to watch improv from a dedicated group of people learning it for the first time-young performers occasionally hitting on the type of humor that will begin to define their personality. In its third year, The Milwaukee Sketch and Improv fest is beginning to more clearly define itself in a city of festivals.