LOS ANGELES TIMES
“LA Noir UnScripted: Whodunit? Not Even Impro Theatre Knows Until They Do It”
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–in a show that is running now through June 13th at Theatre Asylum in Hollywood.
When the lights come up in the small theatre, the evening’s cast marches onto the stage for a lineup, and have only their costumes, a bare bones noir-esque set, and the giggle-worthy taped body outlines on the stage floor, to give them any sense of character. Relying on the audience’s suggestion of both a locale from Los Angeles in the 1940s and an object (in the show I saw, it was Larchmont and a piano) they dive headlong into a two-act performance 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. The show program includes notes from director Brian Lohmann, who details their approach to the project and the extensive research each of the actors went through in order to take on the film noir genre impromptu. They read books, like the stories of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, watched an impressive collection of films, and explored themes and tensions in their rehearsals.
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, and LA Noir UnScripted’s director Lohmann is prepping to offer a workshop in the very same genre. Information about their classes is available online.
LA Noir UnScripted is performed Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. and runs through June 13th. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased 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: 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.
Two detectives, a movie star, a dress with an address stapled to the inside, the lady with the dancing Chihuahuas and a dead Bobby in a span of an hour and a half. Here’s the catch: 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!