For years T.J. Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi have reigned as Chicago's must-see two-person improv team. After catching a recent set from Colleen Doyle and Jason Shotts at iO Theater, I think it's safe to say there's room on that improv pedestal for yet another pair of performers.
Seasoned improvisers (and a couple in real life), Doyle and Shotts — who perform together under the moniker "Dummy" — have that all-important ability to create believable characters in an instant and they displayed what appeared to be a simultaneous (if unspoken) acknowledgment of the direction their narrative should take (about a veterinarian-in-training, on the night I attended). That's not something you see very often, even in long-form improv, where scenes can lurch from idea to idea without fully embracing a larger, more meaningful through line. But as far as I could tell, the pair seemed to be on the same page at all times.
Doyle, in particular, is an exceptionally good actor, able to play slightly weird and off-putting types (including a vet dryly explaining the basics of euthanasia to the new guy), only to swiftly shift gears as a sexy damsel in distress who can't quite come to grips with her pet's fate, crashing into the arms of the novice doc (Shotts) who will end her kitty's life. Doyle fully and brilliantly committed to a crying jag in this scene, only to reveal (in character) that it was all a put-on. It was a moment so meta, and yet so right, and a joke that kept on giving in later scenes.
Sharing a double bill with "Dummy," the darker side of human nature is explored in "Murderers," which also features comedy veterans in the cast (including Chris Witaske, John Hartman and Second City e.t.c. alum Amanda Blake-Davis) who are all too happy to root around and expose the twisted impulses that tend to get squelched by polite society.
Though solid, I'm not sure the show is generating truly memorable moments of improv. That said, Hartman got off one of the more hilariously verbose lines of the night, trying to explain the root of his gal pal's love problems: "Your heart is talking to your brain, which is talking to your feet, which are talking to your lady parts, and it's just a traffic jam up in there." You could sense Hartman stepping into the void as he started his riff, and yet he pushed through and kept going with the conceit and somehow made it work. Those are always the right kind of instincts.
Open run Wednesdays at iO Theater, 3541 N. Clark St.; tickets are $5 at 773-880-0199 or ioimprov.com
Outrageous and tacky as all get-out, "Pimprov" is the rare show that truly nails political correctness right between the eyes with style and exuberant wit (while acknowledging, in the program notes, the real violence that goes hand in hand with the profession they're satirizing).
Since 2005, the five performers of this group have been tearing into pimp culture with a ludicrous yet ideal premise: a group of pimps (each with their own distinctive sartorial style) have taken a class at Second City. Now they want to show off their improv chops (although these scenes often seem beside the point).
The genius of the show is in the pimp characters themselves, and the more these first-rate performers get to play around in-character, the better. You can tell a lot of care and thought has been put into their costumes and quirks over the years, but it is Keith Smitherman as Pimpin Poochie (looking like Rick James crossed with one of the Wayans brothers) who takes the show to its most insane level. Firstly, he gets the longest and battiest intro. But just as essential, he brings a sharp unpredictability to the stage, and my guess is that more often than not, he surprises even his cast mates with his intensely funny all-bets-are-off approach. Pimpin Poochie is a loose cannon and one of the silliest creations to grace a stage. Don't take your eyes off of him, or you're likely to miss some of the funniest throw-away moments all night.
Open run Fridays at Chemically Imbalanced Theatre, 1422 W. Irving Park Road; tickets are $15 at 800-838-3006 or brownpapertickets.com
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