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Review: University (Theatre Momentum)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

     

Review: University (Theatre Momentum)

University
 

Directed by Henri Dugas IV
at Apollo Theatre Studio, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
thru Aug 13  | tickets: $8-$10  |  more info

Check for half-price tickets


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Improv show takes audience back to school

     

Review: University (Theatre Momentum)

Theatre Momentum presents

  

University

Review by Keith Ecker 

I have been on a self-imposed sabbatical from improv comedy for about two years. After having attended all the major local improv institutions, I got burned out. Rather than reach for the pinnacle of intelligent comedy, as legendary instructor Del Close advocated, too many improvisers seemed to settle for base gags and cheap laughs. And there’s only so much slapstick and referential humor a person can stand.

Theatre Momentum‘s mission reflects a refreshing take on the art of improvisation. Rather than set out to make comedy, it sets out to produce theatre, theatre that happens to be improvised. And so, unlike the shallow Family Guy-inspired scenes that flood the stages of other improv venues, Theatre Momentum’s works tend to have fleshed out characters and relationships and a more colorful emotional palette. Although the jokes aren’t shot at the audience in rapid-fire succession, when the situational humor arises, it is so much more satisfying.

The company’s new improvised show, University, does not disappoint. Director Henri Dugas IV has assembled an extraordinarily talented and dedicated crew, some of whom are not just talented improvisers but also talented actors. Although each show is bound to be different due to the nature of the form, the installment I saw reflected an adept cast with impeccable listening and recall skills.

University is a serial improv show. This means that the story that started at the show’s opening will continue until the show’s closing. All actors portray the same character throughout the show’s run. The program provides some background on the various characters that inhabit the fictitious university where the piece takes place, helping to provide some context for virginal audience members. Also, the cast is liberal with the use of context clues to help the uninitiated get up to speed.

Because this is a serial improv show, the plot of the production is bound to organically change from the installment I saw. So describing the plot is a little pointless. In short, University is a peak into the lives of a group of students and professors. To make things interesting (and to accurately reflect the sexually charged collegiate atmosphere) many of the characters are trying to get into each other’s pants. For instance, rambunctious harpist Ingrid (Bente Englesoft) has the hots for Professor Rose (Derek Van Barham). Meanwhile geeky Gregory (Peter Athans) is gaga for fellow student Lynn (Julie Chereson).

Van Barham and Theresa Ohanian (who portrays Dr. Marie Burbage) are exceptionally strong. They have wonderful chemistry together, and both adeptly broadcast a range of emotions through facial expressions alone. All performers are talented at the art of imbuing dialogue with subtext, a crucial talent in this form of improv. And hokey pop culture references are kept to a minimum, with a brief scene about the film “Panic Room” being the only standout example of this kind of cheap improv convention.

If you want to see a different kind of improv, one that is not so easily found in the established venues of Second City and iO, then check out University. The Theater Momentum production is consistently engaging and often deeply funny. Overall, it’s a clever show with a clever cast.

  

Rating: ★★★

Theatre Momentum’s University continues through August 13th at the Apollo Theatre Studio, 2540 N. Lincoln (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm. Tickets are $8-$10, and can be purchased by phone (773-935-6100) or online at apollochicago.com. More information at TheatreMomentum.com.

 

Theatre Momentum symbol - Chicago


     

artists

cast

Peter Athans, Laura Bloechl, Julia Chereson, Bente Engelstoft, Theresa Ohanian, Jon Sales, Harz Sondericker, Derek Van Barham, Zach Zimmerman

behind the scenes

Henri Dugas IV (director), Tony Rielage (artistic director)


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