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Theater Review (LA): “An Evening of Spolin Games”

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The Spolin Players are named for theater pioneer Viola Spolin (1906-1994), widely credited as the mother of modern improv. The games she developed are certainly improvisational, but this troupe performs them with such precision that it enters the realm of performance art.

Spolin_PlayersAnd why not – many of them were among the last to be directed by the hand of the maestra herself, and their cumulative experience encompasses film, television and theater work with such notable improv companies as the Groundlings and Chicago’s Second City. Edie McClurg is one of the most high-profile members, thanks to her appearances in films like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but they all have solid credits.

What sets this troupe apart from others is its exuberance. They’ve been doing this for a while, but their attitude is still fresh, as if this is the first time they’ve performed these games. Comic highlights on opening night (well, afternoon) included “Gibberish,” during which selected members took turns spouting nonsense while others served as interpreters. Casey Campbell outdid Trainspotting‘s Begbie with his nonverbal Scots accent, and John Mariano managed to hilariously convey the intensity of Marlon Brando without using any actual words. “Emotional Chorus,” in which members were assigned different feelings by the audience and expressed them vocally while being conducted like an orchestra, was also hilarious.

With improv, it’s always hit-or-miss, but this show is mostly hits. Only one game on opening night, “Camera Angle,” didn’t work. But none of them outstays its welcome anyhow, so if one bombs, another one comes along quickly.

All in all, An Evening of Spolin Games is a fun way to spend an hour. There are only four performances left during the Hollywood Fringe Festival: Thursday, June 13; Saturday, June 22; Friday, June 28; and Sunday, June 30, all at varying times. Click here for details and reservations. The show is playing at Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.

Photo: Shari Barrett

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About Kurt Gardner

Writer, critic and marketing expert whose passion for odd culture knows no bounds.