Upon entry into the theater space, I was directed to a setup off to the side with slips of paper and pens. Little placards told us to write a NOTE TO SELF and drop it in the metal can, examples offered including “get donuts for the office.” I had received the inside scoop from one of the other theatergoers that they’ll be used as a formative part of the show. As NOTE TO SELF is improv comedy, I didn’t want mine to be too mundane to work with so I chose a simple, sadly relevant, yet ripe for humor note: stop eating in bed. The conversation and jokes with strangers, all ruminating on what their contribution would be, set a fun, friendly and upbeat tone for the performance.
NOTE TO SELF adds an extra element of improv. Not just the actions and words of the actors are improvised, but their thoughts are too. Stage left three cast members (Adam Siry, Whitney Harris and Joel Sumner) armed only with microphones and wit jump in with the inner musings of the central character in the scene. The timing, comedic and otherwise, is impeccable; only rarely could I not hear something due to over talking. The show begins with each character reciting a “note to self” that the audience submitted in the aforementioned can. My “stop eating in bed” comment was chosen, and if you’re lucky enough to have yours incorporated, it adds an extra dose of enjoyment. If the show were scripted I’d still be impressed with the quality of comedy, but considering it’s all improvised, it’s genius. Noises from the audience included raucous laughter, exclamations, and involuntary shrieks during disturbingly amusing tension. Not only was it funny on a dime, but they even managed to build up characters and create human moments not always found in improv.
If you thought the adlib of inner voices was a creative enough addition, with each show the characters build on the events of previous nights. I went back the day after to see how they’d pull it off. I found myself excited even before arrival–looking forward to the weird food cravings and delusions of grandeur from Christopher (Fred Brown), or wondering if this time around Andrew (Andrew Coppola) would talk to someone, anyone, successfully. In addition to the main characters that stayed only within one role, supporting improvisers switched around depending on the scene. Jessica Ross, as secretary, bus rider, butch lesbian, and more, wove herself into the action perfectly. While always funny, beyond that she provided great structure and assists for everyone around her.
The laughs I enjoyed the most came from the interruption of quiet from one of the inner voices. Across the board, these thought commentators were sharp and continually surprising with how well they captured the randomness and quirks of the human mind. The lulls that can plague improv comedy were just an opportunity for insight in this production.
Even though the characters were developing right on the spot, they generally were fresh and didn’t rely on stereotypes or easy ploys; though one supporting actor (Kate Banford) did seem to descend into a crazy-judgey-girl typecast across many of the scenes she jumped in. What could have been funny, if paced better, seemed frantic, high pitched, and took away from the feeling of ease present in other scenes. Of course, there are always variations in improv, and that might not be the case in future nights. While the level of comedy the second go-round didn’t match the first, it was still laugh-out-loud funny and carried the charms of the characters over splendidly. I’ve had to stop myself from going back again and again, just to see how they progress. Somehow I missed that the performance was BYOB, so don’t make my mistake, and grab a beverage of your choosing and instate your own two-three-however-many-drink minimum on this stellar example of improv comedy. [Asian Arts Initiative, 1219 Vine St] March 13-23, 2014. http://figmenttheater.org/.