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Theater review: ‘UnScripted Rep’ at Odyssey Theatre

April 14, 2011 |  6:45 pm

Shakespeare DSC_2282 The prospect of an unscripted performance can strike fear in the hearts of even the most seasoned stage veterans, so it’s worth a nod upfront to the chutzpah of Impro Theatre (formerly L.A. Theatresports) for tackling the nightly creation of a full-length improvised play without the safety net of preparation. The classically trained actors go even further in their “UnScripted Rep” guest stint at the Odyssey Theatre by rotating the style of each performance between Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams and Stephen Sondheim, any one of which would pose a daunting enough challenge for an entire run.

That being said, the flip side of improv is that without a constant flow of seat-of-the-pants brilliance, there’s no place to hide. At last Friday’s opening, that inspiration was in short supply for an unscripted faux-Shakespearean comedy.

Keeping audience participation to a minimum, the cast solicited suggestions only for the play’s title (“Double Rainbow”) and, after intermission, for the actors who would open the second act. While the performers invented their characters and story on the spot, they were obviously drawing on a set of cookie-cutter patterns and formulas. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — the same could be said about Shakespeare — but for the most part, the resulting parody failed to ignite as the performers stepped on each others’ lines, backpedaled from narrative dead ends and struggled to coalesce as an ensemble. Iambic pentameter and rhyme were mostly AWOL.

Brian Michael Jones supplied most of the comic energy as a mercurial trickster precipitating romantic complications involving bickering  monarchs of Tuscany (Michele Spears, Brian Lohmann), their milquetoast son (company co-founder Dan O’Connor), his fickle heartthrob (Lisa Fredrickson), her meddlesome father (Paul Rogan) and a scheming vixen (Lauren Rose Lewis). 

Given the show’s unscripted nature and varying cast drawn from a larger pool of actors, this report may not be predictive of future performances. Still, there’s a reason why improv is usually done in individual scenes that can be ended when they run out of steam.

-– Philip Brandes

“UnScripted Rep,” Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 29. $25-30. (310) 477-2055 or Running time: approximately 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Photo: Paul Rogan and Brian Michael Jones. Credit: William Adashek.