The experience of a performance by the Improvised Shakespeare Company is difficult to describe because it is much less about the story than it is about watching the troupe come up with it on the fly. Formed in 2005 by Blaine Swen, who still performs with the troupe, The Improvised Shakespeare Company creates a mash up of the Bard and improv comedy. Performances will continue through May 20 at the Temple Theater.
Based on a title from the audience, the performers improvise a two-act play using the themes and styles of William Shakespeare. Unfortunately, the audience was a little shy, and only one person spoke up when prompted for a suggestion. They suggested Batman and Robin. Not exactly a title ripe with possibilities, but that is the challenge of improv.
With that jumping off point, the story of Bruce and Lady Robin began with a wedding and concluded, as many Shakespearean plays do, with all the characters dead. In between there were disguises, regicide and the possible consummation of Bruce and Lady Robin’s marriage. The build up to the consummation was made all the more hilarious by the fact that the all male troupe gets up close and personal in a way that only works in that type of situation.
The most fun was had when the troupe referred back to something one of the others had come up with in an earlier scene. Particularly raucous was the repetition of the seven nights of courtship, a test of memory for sure, ultimately leading up to Bruce and Lady Robin’s decision to fast track the seven nights into one. The shortened courtship ensues with such activities as poetry, emotional sharing, book club, and above the neck touching. Though Bruce lamented the misfortune that Lady Robin’s neck was not at her ankles.
The other high point was Bruce’s back-story. Bruce retreated to a cave, which he carved out of a cliff with a spoon, to get revenge on the cliff off of which his parents had fallen and perished. Bruce’s enemy seeks revenge on Bruce when Bruce’s parents fell from the cliff they fell on top of him.
Blaine Swen and Brendan Dowling, the strongest members of the troupe, played Bruce and Lady Robin. Swen and Dowling played extremely well off each other and seemed to be able to anticipate each other’s next move. Joey Bland and Rich Prouty were also adept. Joe Burton seemed a little off that night, but that may have more to do with the fact that there was not much for him to do. Given the prompt of Batman and Robin, it surely takes massive creativity to come up with roles for five people that will keep them all busy.
The Improvised Shakespeare Company skillfully handled the challenge and came up with an off the wall story of Batman and Robin. Of course, you never know what the story will be at any given performance, but there will be laughs. In fact, you’ll laugh 100 percent more frequently than you would at any performance of the real Bard. That is a guarantee.