The stage was empty but for a few chairs. When the show started, two guys in some approximation of business casual walked out and introduced themselves. Lee Rowley and Rick Katschke—improv comics. It was their first in a pair of performances this month at the Alchemist Theatre—this one right after a ‘70’s theme party in the attached bar. It was a relatively packed house with a demographic that skewed relatively young.
Lee Rowley is someone I’d seen in comic roles on local stages before. He rests somewhere in my memory as a pair of glasses and a shaggy head of blond hair attached to someone with interesting comic instincts. Rick Kaatschke I don’t know. Never remember seeing the guy perform before. Over the course of the evening, I get to know him as a relatively thin guy with boyishly good looks and something of a sly savviness to him . . . a little like Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller in 1986. The two are a part of Meanwhile—a much larger improv group that has had little difficulty selling out the Alchemist in the past. Here they are without the four others.
Rowley and Katschke asked for a single noun from the audience. Just one noun. The two would then center an entire hour long performance around that noun. This sort of a format is taking a bit of a risk. . . from what I’ve seen, improv tends to thrive on multiple suggestions from the audience—the greater the audience interaction the greater the more the audience feels engaged and the more likely they are to enjoy it. Also—with only one noun as a suggestion and nothing else to limit the performance other than a one hour time limit, it can be all too easy for the narrative comedy to get stuck in a place that isn’t at all entertaining for the audience or the performers . . .
The suggestion called out from somewhere near the back of the theatre was, “Horse.” Rowley hunched over. Katschke mimed a basketball. Rowley straightened-up and the two launched into what ended up being a game of horse between a father and son. The son (Rowley) was just back from college—Clemson. The father was probably the most interesting character in the hour—a demanding taskmaster obsessed with the game of horse—someone who evidently had challenged an entire graduating class (minus one) to a tournament of Horse the day his son graduated from high school. Thus began an hour that passed as though it were only 30 minutes or so . . .
The show wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny from beginning to end, but there were more than enough moments to keep the show entertaining. The curiosity of seeing two relatively new improv comics communicate through a one-hour piece is worth the $5 ticket price. Occasionally, the one would fall into a terminally unfunny moment and the other would tilt things in just the right way to maintain the show’s momentum. The most idiosynchratic part of Rowley and Katschke‘s rapport is their quibbling over details. There was a brief discussion about pre-prepared frozen tirimisu over the dinner table that was oddly funny in hat it didn’t seem to be going anywhere near being actual comedy . . . there’s a kind of fearlessness there that makes for an interesting hour. They rendered a remarkably detailed set of characters who all had individual personality tics that felt pretty realistic. And, of course, it’s really refreshing to see a pair of improv comics who aren’t afraid of silent moments . . . the hour had a very rough feel to it that could really develop into something interesting. True, it could be said that audience members are paying $5 to see LeeRick practice improv rather than perform it, but there’s a real potential payoff there for anyone interested in seeing the comedic rapport between two guys tone itself and develop over time. . .
LeeRick’s next performance is Friday, June 26th at 10pm at The Alchemist Theatre.