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Monday, September 26, 2011

Theater Review: Opening night at 2nd Annual Orlando Improv Festival

Posted By on Mon, Sep 26, 2011 at 1:51 PM

click to enlarge The WHOligans perform at the 2nd Annual Orlando Improv Festival
  • The WHOligans perform at the 2nd Annual Orlando Improv Festival

Do you love to laugh? In that case, you're in luck, because this week two different comedy festival are luring entertainers from around the nation to Orlando for your amusement.

First up is the 2nd Annual Orlando Improv Festival, which began last night (Sunday 9/25) at the Winter Park Playhouse and continues through tomorrow (Tues 9/26). This is the second Improv festival presented by Mark Baratelli's The Daily City, and it has expanded from two evenings of performance to three, with 23 different groups performing.

I stopped by yesterday to check out the opening-night performances. Accompanied by an intimate but enthusiastic audience, I experienced twenty-minute shows from two featured groups, followed by a 45-minute show from one of the headliners. Here's a brief rundown on what I saw, but since this is improv, you're certain to see something entirely different if you decide to attend one of the remaining shows.

The WHOLigans (Orlando)

click to enlarge Dad's Garage from Atlanta
  • Dad's Garage from Atlanta

This troupe's “Doctor WHOse Line Is It Anyways?” was such a big hit at the 2011 Orlando Fringe Festival that I failed in every attempt to get a ticket. So I was thrilled to finally get a chance to see this group in person, despite the fact that I've only seen a handful of episodes (none of which I could follow) of the BBC sci-fi show they're inspired by.

Instead of following the titular time-traveling Doctor himself, our hero was Charles the Adjunct Professor (apparently still working on his time-lord PhD). With his faithful companion Danny and a dangerous ice-cream obsession, Charles travels the multiverse in his cosmic outhouse (“it's smaller on the outside!”) and crash-lands on a planet of murderous robots. That sparked the world's longest edition of the familiar improv game “party quirks,” which climaxed when Charles deduced that “The Silence” (a pre-show audience suggestion) were the invisible villains behind that evening's absurd “episode.”

With goofy no-budget “special effects” like slow-motion running in front of a cheesy starfield poster, the WHOLigans might have better production values that the show they affectionately mock. I got a few good guffaws out of their gags, and probably would have enjoyed more if I'd gotten all the inside jokes. But Doctor devotee or not, I couldn't help notice that there are a few too many WHOligans in this gang; there always seemed to be at least two cast-members standing awkwardly upstage, shuffling their feet with hands in pockets, waiting for something funny to do.

Formal Apology (Chicago)

click to enlarge img_1878jpg

A trio of dudes from the Windy City, Formal Apology did a fantastic job of never faltering in their flow, spilling out a stream-of-consciousness banter that leaped from lawn mower machismo to Darwinian jetski-riding squirrels to a psycho craft-fair smackdown. Especially entertaining was the way one performer would make a non sequitur quip like “Remember that time last summer?” prompting the others to embark on an instant flashback, eventually resulting in nested scenes-within-scenes-within-scenes.

Only two things stopped this show from being a slam-dunk, but they're biggies in the world of improv. For one, even though an audience-supplied question (“How do birds fly?”) was supposed to drive the improvisation, nothing in the show made even the slightest reference to it. Second, and worse, the show abruptly ended in mid-sentence when the group overran their allotted time and had the lights turned off on them. As any professional will tell you, in comedy timing is everything.

Dad's Garage (Atlanta)

click to enlarge img_1882jpg

Sunday's headliners, a quartet of men from Dad's Garage in Atlanta, began by asking the audience for a thematic thread. The supplied subject of “relocation” never really became integrated into the proceedings, though several of the subsequent skits danced around it. Even so, this set sported some of the sharpest comedic moments of the evening, with circular silliness involving Hooters hotwings, prom night experimentation, and campfire bonding. I especially appreciated the way they would transition between scenes with repetitive nonsensical sounds and Viewpoints-like rhythmic movement, lending the proceedings a surreal ritualistic air.

The madness culminated in a “culturally retarded” mangling of Muslim theology that would have been offensive if it wasn't so funny: asked one praying supplicant, “As long as we're being blasphemous, does anyone else's quadriceps hurt?” It appeared to be a close call when the act concluded before getting the lights-out treatment. But they made it to an acceptable ending (even if the various threads didn't all get resolved), and they brought the joy of one-eyed midget blind dates and “monkeyballs” to Orlando – what more can we ask?

If you want to check out the remainder of the 2nd Annual Orlando Improv Festival for yourself, here is the remaining schedule for today and tomorrow. Tickets can be purchased online at


6pm Happy Hour open bar at Winter Park Playhouse

7pm Dear Aunt Gertrude (Tampa) + Loaded Dice (Missouri)

8pm Headliner: Jana Banana from 104.1's The Phillip's Phile in The Armando

9pm Headliner: 3033 (Chicago)

10pm Bear vs. Wizard (Orlando)

11pm Random Processes (Orlando) + Theatre Strike Force (Gainesville) +The Early Show (Orlando)

12am Afterparty (Location TBA)


6pm Happy Hour open bar at Winter Park Playhouse

7pm Free Form Theatre Group (Maitland)

8pm Headliner: 3033 (Chicago)

9pm Headliner: Fat & Skinny (Chicago)

10pm Droll Academy (Orlando) + Classy D (Chicago)

11pm Wooden Steel (Orlando)

12am Afterparty (Location TBA)

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