The dentist's drill, cheap champagne, Ishtar, mime...there are few things worse than bad improvisational comedy. The News, the latest improvisational offering by the Freestyle Repertory Theater, has all the trimmings and all the potential, but unfortunately falls into that oh-so-painful category.
The television newsroom setting of the piece has more authenticity than Ted Baxter's studio on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The small theater space is airy, yet intimate. The seven-member ensemble is a young, bright, attractive, eager team, which has apparently been well trained in theater arts. They have a stage presence--hitting their marks, enunciating, and using the roomy stage to their advantage. The ingredients for an evening of improvisational comedy are all there, except one small thing: They're simply not funny.
Short improvisations on the day's headlines make up the first half of the evening. The audience, which was sparse on this particular chilly evening, is asked to browse newspapers and magazines (readily available on the seats) and offer suggestions for bits. The stories are then presented by two news anchors sitting at a desk, with the ensemble playing field reporters and interviewees as needed. "The United States goes to war, but first this story," and "Madonna's baby is still a boy," are among the more clever quips from the anchors, who look and sound the part. Unfortunately, every time they go to a field-report, the so-called correspondents have that deer-in-the-headlights expression. Far too many ums and ahs indicated that these were not yet stream-of-consciousness, loose performers; it was painfully clear that they were searching and reaching.
A story about the Pope having blessed Pokemon showed promise as the troupe tried to take the attributes of Pokemon and show how, inside the Vatican, the same behavior was evident. The premise, however, fell flat after that initial set-up. This, if nothing else, was the ongoing theme of the first portion of the show, with premises dying slow and painful deaths. The one saving grace was a story about Mayor Giuliani's wife appearing in The Vagina Monologues, whereby an interview with a vagina made it past the initial set-up phase and headed in the general direction of humor.