SLASHER (Figment): An improv horror

I get a lot of press releases and review requests from theater and PR firms and often agree to attend without reading much about the show—there’s a great anticipation watching the lights come up on a play you know almost nothing about. Occasionally, however, this tactic means I end up attending a musical or an improv show. And following the maxim that a critic shouldn’t review a show he’s predisposed to dislike, I should not review musicals or improv.

Cait O'Driscoll, Kristen Schier in Figment Theater's SLASHER. Photo credit: Erin Pitts
Cait O’Driscoll, Kristen Schier in Figment Theater’s SLASHER. Photo credit: Erin Pitts

SLASHER is a one hour improv play in the vein of a B-movie horror. There’s an unnecessarily precautious “splash area” where the audience may be stained with stray stage blood. An audience member’s spin of a wheel dictates the setting and holiday (a school on Easter weekend, on opening night). If this sounds like a description of the kind of show you like to see, you’ll probably like SLASHER. The actors establish their caricatures well (sex-obsessed boy, weird Christian girl, bad girl, goody two-shoes, etc.), there are some fast-response jokes, and some funny moments.

But judged as theater, SLASHER suffers from flaws common to improv: There are pauses and repetitions, the jokes are broad and obvious, the plot uninspired. Actors can improvise a broad-stroke character quickly, but they can’t make up good dialog or plot. At its best, improv acknowledges this and uses audience participation to change the theatrical experience into more intimate, existential entertainment. Generally, though, I’d rather see well-written dialog aiding thought-out sequential action (minus song breaks!). But that’s why I shouldn’t be reviewing improv theater. October 17-27, 2013, figmenttheater.org.

15 Replies to “SLASHER (Figment): An improv horror”
  1. Wow. Yeah, you’re right. You shouldn’t be reviewing improv. They’re parodying a genre that is littered with cliche and tropes and you’re complaining that the jokes are broad and obvious? It’s a pastiche. Those are exactly the types of jokes people are coming to see. It’s like you went to see burlesque and complained there were exposed breasts. Hell, one of the actresses in the press shot you used right here was on the cover of Philly Weekly as the funniest comedienne in town. Methinks you should reconsider the idea of being a critic, because clearly you can’t be subjective, and if you’re only going to review what you like you’re going to be a pretty terrible critic.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I totally agree that I shouldn’t review improv, and was pretty upfront about my bias. I went to see the show thinking it was a theater piece, and consider it as thus.

      Do you mean “you can’t be *objective*”? because I sure am subjective, as I make clear. But objectively, I describe the show and say that if that sounds like “the types of jokes you are coming to see”, then this is a good show. But judged by the standards of THEATER, it leaves a lot to be desired. Parodying a cliched genre still allows for clever and subtle jokes, for a streamlined plot and well crafted dialog. I would welcome a review from someone who appreciates improv more and could critique the piece as improv. It might be a great example of the genre, but I’m really not sure. Contact chris@phindie.com if you’d like to submit one. If you have specific advice for how to judge improv and how this play did or did not satisfy those judgments, I would love to hear it.

      If I reviewed a musical by accident, I would complain that they break into bad songs in the middle of the play for no added dramatic effect, and that’s why I shouldn’t review musicals. If I reviewed a kick in the balls I’d say it hurt. I’ll stick to theater.

      The actor in the photo was very good.

  2. This is a very poor review and bad editorial decision by this website.

    Some of the most talented people in Philadelphia are in this show. Do yourself a favor, and see it. Why would you take the word of someone who is already biased against the art form?

    1. Oops, it is written by the editor of the site. The biases are laid clear for all to see. I’d hope someone who likes improv of this style would still want to see the show.

  3. Perhaps you should get a job doing something for which you’re actually qualified, Mr. Munden. Also, it’s spelled “dialogue.”

    1. Your comment is welcome, although a little harsh and something which I would never think of saying to an actor whose performance I was reviewing in a public sphere.

      I think you’ll find dialog is an acceptable Americanized variant.

  4. Yes, I meant objective. Why are you judging improv by the standards of theater? Do you often judge rock concerts by the standards of the iditarod?

    1. I thought I was going to a theater show. It is billed as “improv theater”. I generally review theater, and publish theater reviews on this site. It’s perhaps more like judging a rock concert by the standards of a classical music concert. But that would probably be much fairer and more interesting than what I wrote.

      1. Your tone continues to betray your bias, admitted though it is. “‘Real’ Theatre” is to “Improv” as “Classical Music” is to “Rock Music”. Your opinion that one is inherently superior to another means that no improv performance really has a chance with you regardless of quality.

        1. You used “rock concert”. I think I could easily have said, “like reviewing classic music by the standards of a rock concert.” (Where’s the drum beat? The violist had no stage presence. The audience was rarely moved to dance.) Which would also make for a much more interesting review. But yeah, I like real theater more.

  5. As the director of the show, I actually took it as a compliment to the cast that you complimented the actors in a show you were surprised by and didn’t care to be at. I’d also wished we could have convinced people to sit in the splash zone that night. The next night we completely covered 5 people in blood.

    1. Nice Matt, best of luck with the run and thanks for your response.

      What do you think, would it have been better not to review the piece than say what I said? If someone was to review improv, what should they look for and what is it fair to critique.

  6. Christopher, I’m just curious if you could give a few examples of Standards of Theater? I imagine you are the type of theater-goer who also dislikes murder mysteries and dinner theater as well? Why must we in the world of performance art be continually overly compartmentalized? You’re article is written as if to say, “If you like true theater, as I do, then this is not a show for you.”

    Just curious as to where these predispositions come from for you? What is your background? Finally, I’d like to give you props for asking Jim to do your job for you and email it to you when he’s done. You’d make a great Athlete in Slasher, asking the Scholar to do your homework for you.

    I just want to say I mean no disrespect, I just shouldn’t comment on critic’s reviews as I’m predisposed to dislike poorly written ones.

    1. Thanks for your response. I love murder mysteries. Agatha Christie is great. Dinner theater I’ve seen good and bad. If you look at my past reviews, I think you’ll find I like a variety of theater. I think it is better when it has a playwright, you are welcome to disagree with me. You too are welcome to submit a review and to add any comments you wish. I’m also editor of the site and would welcome a piece on the joys of improv.

      A little background on me here: http://phindie.com/whys-everyone-such-a-critic/

      I like your concluding joke.

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