Improv is risky, for both actors and audience. Too intimidated by the uncertainty of it all, I’ve avoided it for a long time. At times, Cornservatory’s “Simply Liam” confirmed my fears about improv. But it also showed me what I’ve been missing.
The duo McGarnackle opens “Simply Liam” with a detective-show parody. Young, cherubic-faced Orlando Lara towers at least a foot over middle-aged, squinty-eyed Louis Hirsch. Hirsch plays the snarling McGarnackle, a resolute and reticent detective, while Lara bounces around stage embodying literally every other character. To extract great material Lara pushes Hirsch’s creative parameters but never attempts to cross them. They clearly have fun together and unsurprisingly, hilarity ensues.
On Friday night another duo, RLM, performed (this spot will rotate with other acts throughout the run) and they unfortunately validated my long-time concers about the improvisational arts. Confusion, competition, overextended ambition. That’s all I’ll say.
The headlining troop LIAM describe its work as “long-form” improv; they do not switch scenes and they do not switch characters. Once given a suggestion, they spread over the stage in silence, in concentration, and alone, but together, form their characters. At my show, the comedy went dark, quickly. Incest, war, dementia, death. All from the suggestion “Grandpa.” Cynthia Kmak has a particular talent for containing and expanding the narrative, filling in her fellow performers’ silences when necessary or backing off from a situation that threatens to go too far. Justine Krueger is quite the opposite. She’s ready to fling anything (including an overly sexual, homicidal seven-year old) at her peers and the audience, making the story unique but also a bit unwieldy. Katie Tyner plays a great straight woman and Grant Collins seems up for anything. The group has great chemistry and an innovative vision for improv. Overall, “Simply Liam” won me over.