LOS ANGELES TIMES
Reviewed by: Charlotte Stoudt
While filming The Big Sleep, Howard Hawks asked author Raymond Chandler who killed a certain victim. Chandler’s famous response: He had no idea. Hard-boiled plots can get lost in their own fog, a danger that bedevils LA Noir UnScripted, the latest improvisational hijinks from Impro Theatre.
The deadpan troupe, which has created original comic plays nightly in the style of Jane Austen, Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare, now dons fedoras and fishnets for this droll excursion into B-movie territory.
Last Sunday, audience suggestions for a location (Santa Monica) and two objects (a trumpet and cigarette case) sparked the story of a Portuguese drug dealer (Stephen Kearin) pushed off the pier. Eyewitnesses to the attempted murder included a restless Glendale newlywed (Jo McGinley) and her neurasthenic husband (Nick Massouh). Bullets flew as Det. Jamison (Dan O’Connor) trailed the mysterious gangland figure Kuti Lobo (Brian Lohmann), his hunt punctuated by music cues from noir classics.
The pleasure of Impro is its tightrope walk of sustained improvisation. The possibility of failing — or at least stumbling — gives its work its giddy buzz. These angels with dirty faces play well with pulp.
LA WEEKLY – CRITIC’S PICK!
Reviewed by Tom Provenzano
GO! After years of perfecting their sharply honed craft of improvising parodies of highbrow masters such as Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Stephen Sondheim, Impro Theatre decides to slack off a bit with this less demanding satire of film noir. A lot of wordy, mixed metaphors, some cheesy suspense music, a few light gobos representing the shadows of Venetian blinds and voilà: Sam Spade and gang of hard-boiled cynics are ready to roll. Well the gambit worked, the easy clichés and furtive looks of the genre flow out of these improvisers so fast and with such surety that they barely have time to listen to one another before letting the next hilarious banality fly. Actually this opening night the folks did get a bit sloppy in their listening — especially to names — but their caricatures and situations were so fun that no one was keeping track of improv rules. Company artistic director Dan O’Connor is in his element as the bitter detective, Edi Patterson looks perfectly askance as the sardonic beauty, and Lisa Fredrickson is delightful as an over-the-hill movie star; you may never see them in these specific characters, but you will see them at their comic best.
“LA Noir UnScripted: Whodunit? Not Even Impro Theatre Knows Until They Do It”
Reviewed by: Lindsay William-Ross
Without a good script, the hallmarks of really good film noir don’t have a leg to stand on. The archetype characters and suspenseful plot as presented on the page give actors and directors the material to create intrigue and excitement. So what happens when those pages are blank?
One of Los Angeles’ premiere longform improv troupes, Impro Theatre, faces that very dilemma–or rather challenge, with every performance of their brilliant new stage enterprise, LA Noir UnScripted. The rotating cast of talented improvisers, many of whom you’ve seen in film and television, embark on a delightful and surprising journey into the darkest corners of the mean city — and their own minds — guided by instinct, talent, and their collective savvy of the genre.
What ensues is a clever romp through the trenches of noir’s beloved conventions, as the admirably skilled actors riff off each other, embracing fumbles and twists into the ad hoc plot and remarkably create a net that not only keeps the entire cast afloat, but manages to weave the strands of a complex mystery from conflict to resolution by the time the show must come to an end. That may sound dire and serious, but you would never know that from where you sit in your chair; Impro Theatre’s performers seem uncannily calm…and are uncannily hilarious.
The strengths of LA Noir UnScripted rest firmly in the ability of all of the performers to embrace character with full abandon and no self-consciousness. For the evening I was in attendance I was charmed by a doe-eyed ingenue with a secret tarty past (Kari Coleman), a troubled and manipulated wife of a miscreant (Tracy Burns), a dope-sick jazz-playing nincompoop (Brian Lohmann), a slick con-artist named Hamilton Hamilton (Stephen Kearin), a greasy partner cop (Brian Jones), a widower and smooth police detective (Dan O’Connor) and a brassy, smart-mouthed broad-on-the-side (Edi Patterson) who ran the gamut of the genre from heart-pounding chases down narrow streets to paddle-boating on the lake at Echo Park (complete with quacking ducks) to a shoot-out in a seedy nightclub.
Whether you are a die-hard noir enthusiast or just enjoy smart and funny theatre, the amount of study these performers put into their work is not only evident, but also deserves appreciation.
Seeing a show like LA Noir UnScripted (and in recent years another successful venture of Impro Theatre’s, Jane Austen UnScripted) will have you laughing at the off-the-cuff oddball humor improv often elicits, then marveling at how the actors go from a blank slate to full performance without hardly skipping a beat.
You may, in fact, be so inspired that you want to stand up and give it a go yourself. This is not one of those improvised shows, though, where you’ll get brought up on stage and wittily serenaded or roped into a game. But if you feel bitten by the improv bug, Impro Theatre offers classes for all skill levels taught by cast members. Information about their classes is available online.
Reviewed By: Mary Montoro
I remember as a kid staying up late on Friday and Saturday nights staying up watching old movies with actors I never heard of but the stories were so compelling. My first film noir was the 1944 classic Double Indemnity with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck with Edward G. Robinson. I came in half way through the movie but my 10-year old mind quickly picked up what was going on. A love affair with black and white movies began and still goes strong to this day. Who can forget Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, or as Rick Blaine in the all time classic Casablanca and my personal favorite The Big Sleep playing the in-your-face detective Philip Marlowe? But what if Bogey had to improvise his role just for the hell of it? Could he do it? The fine talented people at the Impro Theatre would judge with scrutiny. As part of their UnScripted Series, the theater troupe gives another excellent and hysterical performance on their salute to the gritty, low down and dirty, respect to black and white films with an edge. Every show is different but the experience will be the same: absolutely one of the best shows in Los Angeles.
The gregarious Dan O’Connor takes center stage as Bobby, reminiscent of MacMurray’s role, a guy who gets involved in a deadly situation because of a woman, in this case his lovely wife Lorraine (the talented Edi Patterson). Lorraine has a shady past she tries desperately to keep away from Bobby. They go away for a couple’s weekend, where they meet the sinister looking and sounding Cyril Cole (Stephen Kearin) of Cole’s bar. A hangout for denizens, thugs and women looking for a love or a stiff drink. Lorraine comes up with an idea to make her and Bobby rich. They will rob muscleman Tony Spenser’s (Nick Massouh) safe and live it up. Meanwhile Tony makes plans to rub out Bobby but instead, accidently, or was it? kills sweet Mimi (Lisa Fredrickson) the waitress at Cole’s. Bobby whips out his .45 and tells Tony to meet him at the dock. We all know what happens. There’s always a body or two lying around and the story gets more twisted and involved. Directed by member Brian Lohmann, he truly understands the essence of film noir and executes it brilliantly. There’s humor, mystery, misunderstandings and most importantly, all around fun. Run for this show. You won’t regret it.
Reviewed By: Frank A. Turner III
Imagine walking on stage facing an audience full of people that you don’t know, taking on the character of another person, turning it into a performance with six other actors that are as equally unprepared without embarrassing yourself should you fail and you have Impro Theatre’s presentation of L.A. Noir UnScripted. If that sounds funny, well it is and the audience loved every minute of it. These talented actors take a piece of information and spin it into a thoroughly entertaining event.
Reviewed By: Steven Stanley
WOW! “It’s tough when the postman can’t seem to find your box.” Impro Theatre now turns its talents to L.A. Noir UnScripted, and the 100% improvised result may well be their very best (and funniest) UnScripted yet. Adultery, betrayals, crime, dark street corners, double-crosses, femmes fatales, greed, lust, murder, nightclubs, smoky bars, and a hard-boiled private eye in the City Of Angels—every single film noir ingredient (and cliché) is there, making L.A. Noir UnScripted a must-see for fans of such noir classics as Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and The Maltese Falcon. Brian Lohmann’s direction is as brilliant as ever, and the cast of each “episode” simply couldn’t be better at their craft. Those unfamiliar with film noir need not fear. Even the uninitiated will have one heck of a good time falling under the Impro Theatre spell.
Reviewed By: Patricia Foster Rye
Presented by Impro Theatre and Combined Artform, L.A. Noir UnScripted is a fully improvised evening of theatrical innovation. That’s the unscripted part. The L.A. Noir part means the show is based on all your favorite back and white detective flicks from the late thirties and forties. Think The Maltese Falcon or Double Indemnity, and you get the idea. What results is unique, entertaining and witty. The night I saw it three female actors and four male actors piloted their way through murder, mayhem, flashbacks, and French champagne. These actors’ use of the Noir patois is excellent and their sense memory (everything is mimed but the guns) is terrific. Even the sound (Jason Murphy) and lights (Jim Sabo) are improvised and help move the plot along. The sound track (no credit given) incorporates some familiar movie music for authentic, wonderfully overly dramatic, stings. The program promises each evening is completely unplanned until the last minute and the show is worth a second visit just to see the variety this talented group is capable of.
Reviewed By: Ximena Herschberg
L.A. Noir UNSCRIPTED takes improvisational theater to a whole new level. A troop of seven actors (three women and four men) do extensive research on a specific genre, in this case film noir – “some say it starts with John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon (1941) and ends with Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958).” A big part of the research includes watching films like Kiss Me Deadly, Murder, My Sweet and The Big Knife, as well as reading novels and stories by Horace McCoy, Cornell Woolrich and Raymond Chandler to explore the “cynicism and romanticism, convention vs. nonconformity and free will vs. fate” continually seen in these works. And then, they make hilarious theater incorporating what they’ve learned!
Not to mention the actors must mimic the mannerisms and one-liners – and it doesn’t end there. The lighting and music are also improvised throughout the show.
Each actor enters one by one to the front of the stage in costumes and makeup of the genre. They stand in a straight line, side by side, facing the audience and ask them to name a place in Los Angeles and an object. This particular night the audience chose Echo Park and a stapler, and from that point, a story is born. Every night is totally different. Prior to coming on stage, the actors have not decided what characters they are playing.
This innovative troupe creates magnificent and intriguing theater. The actors are so sharp in their dialogue and expressions. You don’t know where the story will go, what turns it will make, what more genius will come out of the actors mouth. They keep you on the edge of your seat, laughing so hard, wanting more. Clearly, they have done their homework and then some.
I can’t wait to see it again!