There was more improv filling up the stages of Florida Studio Theatre’s venues Saturday night during the Sarasota Improv Festival, and sold-out audiences were waiting to enjoy.
Among the troupes on the playbill that night: Impro Theatre, from Los Angeles, which creates completely improvised, full-length plays in the style of well-known playwrights—in this case Tennessee Williams—and Baby Wants Candy, probably one of the best-known improv companies, which specializes in musicals made up in the moment.
In the first case, a suggestion or two from the audience related to nature—cherry tree, weeping willow—provided all that the four cast members needed to create a typically sultry, steamy, Southern version of a Tennessee Williams tale. Soon we had entered the world of the young Bea (Lisa Fredrickson), her anti-religion widowed mother (Madi Goff), a strange sort of handyman around their property, Chops (Ryan Smith), and a young suitor for Bea’s affection, Cuss (Paul Vonasek). Alcohol, underlying sexual tensions, secrets, melodrama—they’re all hallmarks of Williams works, but in this one-night-only production they were enhanced by invisible mozzarella sticks. And some brooding, pre-taped music helped lead us to the inevitable explosion/crisis.
Steeped in the style of Williams, the cast seemingly had no trouble in following his path into their own creation, which at times was funny chiefly because of the seeming importance and weight of it all. It’s not that hard to imagine it played for real drama.
Such was not the case with the evening’s closer from Baby Wants Candy. Here the cast—John Hartman, Tim Sniffen, Ashley Ward and Kiki Mikkelsen—were all out for laughs as they presented a completely improvised musical, based on the title from the audience, Barack Around the Clock. (OK, we admit we were a tad suspicious that this was a plant, but never mind.)
Backed by Mike Descoteaux on piano and Hunter Brown on drums, the four took off immediately into a plot about replacing the current occupant of the White House, if not with Barack Obama, who has disappeared on a parasailing trip, then with his wife, Michelle, who’s been enjoying her hiatus from politics but might come back if urged. Packed with songs like “Do You Have a Plan?” (also known as “We Have a Plan,” later in the show), “Back to Black,” “I Just Want to Be Let Alone” and “How Sex Works,” this one is a hoot that somehow leads to a desert island where Amelia Earhart and Virginia Woolf have washed up. There’s a pizza maker and more parasailing in the mix, too.
The pace never let up, and the show’s ensemble managed to sustain its own crazy logic for an hour or so that flew by.
While the 10th annual Sarasota Improv Festival is officially over, don’t forget that if you’re bitten by the improv bug, you can satisfy your craving with performances and workshops by the visiting North Coast Improv, July 20 and 21 at FST, and also enjoy performances by the resident company, FST Improv, regularly. For schedule info, head to floridastudiotheatre.org.