Jane Austin Unscripted
For lovers of Improvisation Theatre, this L.A-based company, Impro Theatre, stands out as unique to the genre. Impro has ten shows at their command, all based on the premise that improving around Sondheim, or Tennessee Williams, or Fairy Tales, can, if "Jane Austin Unscripted" is representational of their skill-set, amuse and entertain.
The company requires their casts to do extensive research into the period, both from history books, diaries, films and theatre to gain knowledge to ways of speech, the accents themselves, manners of the day, music, dance, etc. Because they only ask one suggestion from the audience (in this performance, the word, "fashion"), each show rotates around the stated idea. Which this extraordinary group of improv actors was able to fashion, shall we say.
Taking up along the plot lines of "Sense and Sensibility" or "Pride and Prejudice," the actors -- listening intently to each other so as to build carefully (and wittily) on what has been established ahead of them -- riff on sisterly love, elaborate ruses to get a marital partner, and explore love of a dead wife, ruinous gambling, exercise (and flirting) by horse, etc. All very clever, amusing and fascinating.
Even with an intermission, the show lasted only around 90 minutes (perhaps the actors and not the audience needs a break). All seven of the performers were up to the task at hand and built a sturdy camaraderie with the audience, mostly middle-aged women, as it turned out, garnering appreciative laughter from the games.
Performed on a mostly empty stage, with period prop furniture and pieces shoved on and off by the cast, using delightful period costumes (both set and clothing designed by Sandra Burns), there were no weak performers. Apparently it takes five years of intensive training to become a company member, which shows in the ease with which ideas are picked up, amplified and discarded as the show went on.
Lisa Fredrickson, Kelly Holden Bashar, Stephen Kearin, Brian Lohmann, Nick Massouh, Ryan Smith and co-founder Dan O'Conner played so well together; all were astonishingly good at what they did. But it was newcomer-to-the-company Amanda Troop who best personified the Austen ingénue, with her natural beauty and graceful, painfully shy, airs.
If you have the chance to see this company perform anywhere at any time, you will do yourself a favor and envelop them with your attendance and your love.
"Jane Austen Unscripted" plays through Dec. 20 at the Edye Stage at The Broad, 1310 11th Street, Santa Monica, 90401. For tickets or information, call 310-434-3200 or visit www.thebroadstage.com .