January 22, 2010

Improvised Simpsons provides impressive imitations, irreverent in-jokes

Springfield comes to life here in Chicago as five young actors pay tribute to the 20-year-old classic cartoon The Simpsons in the fresh and innovative Improvised Simpsons. The show, playing Saturday nights at the intimate Gorilla Tango Theatre, is a great improv production with very accessible prices (10 dollars per ticket with cheap beer and refreshments available) that will surely guarantee laughs and entertainment for anyone looking for an interesting way to spend a Saturday night.

For all of us whose childhood and teenage memories have been forever tainted with the satirical humor of the yellow family, it is fascinating to watch the incredibly talented cast transform into familiar Simpsons characters as they respond to outrageous situations and questions proposed by the audience. The mixture between the ridiculous audience suggestions, the characters’ inherent absurdity, and the irreverent spontaneity of improv comedy results in hilarious scenes of total incoherency. For example, in last Saturday’s show, while casually looking for condoms in the Kwik-E-Mart, Reverend Lovejoy had an awkward encounter with Marge Simpson, who, coincidently, was also buying condoms. Meanwhile, two belligerent racist kids were violently assaulting the Kwik-E-Mart’s owner, Apu, after a dispute over the store’s chocolate selection.

The prevalent laughter in the audience and the natural acting of the cast establishes an atmosphere of great familiarity with the characters of Springfield, so someone who is not well-acquainted with the TV show might find the improvisations boring. But for militant fans, or even just moderate followers, the imitations are excellent, and the list of Springfield characters performed is extensive. Reverend Lovejoy, Krusty the Clown, Selma and Patty Bouvier, and The Comic Book Guy all make appearances, as do some of the most obscure characters like Fat Tony and the aliens Kang and Kodos. Although the list of characters is quite large, some of the more important characters from the show like Bart, Lisa, and Maggie have minor, maybe even nonexistent, roles in the production.

The show avoids the social and political criticisms of the original TV show. However, while the production won’t get you thinking about the decadence of the American value system, it will still make any fan laugh. Like most other improv shows, the acting is done without the support of scenery, costumes or any other form of theatrical assembly. In fact, with the exception of The Simpsons’ theme song playing occasionally in the background and a poster that reads “Springfield,” there are no accessories to the acting. This should not imply that the show isn’t good; on the contrary, the quality of the improvisation makes the show comparable to any other professional improv show.

The quality of the acting, however, is not consistent in all five performers. Some are clearly more talented in making their characters appear spontaneous and natural. This was especially the case for one actor who would stand nervously on the side, arms crossed, giving off a sense of insecurity when not in character.

The show is no masterpiece of comic theater, but it is clearly not intented to be. Improvised Simpsons intends to provide a short and entertaining reimagining of The Simpsons for fans of the show, improvised comedy, or just an entertaining night.