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City Folk The Universe and Source

Remaining Performances: Sunday, July 13 @ 6:00 PM (The Universe) Friday, July 18 @ 6:00 PM (Source) Thursday, July 24 @ 8:00 PM (Source)

They say: “City Folk, a new improvised sitcom about the people you know, but don’t really want to. Over five nights audience members will drive the plot to create a pilot, a few filler episodes, and a series finale. Brand new episodes each night! You speak. We act! Save us from syndication!”

Brett’s take: Youngish improv group ATC (A Theater Company) has an intriguing concept: an improvised sitcom, with a completely different, sequential episode each performance. Whether or not they’re angling for followers to attend each show or not doesn’t matter, since a sitcom, of course, is designed to be jumped into with little background. What ATC does seem to be aiming for here is a modern commedia dell’arte, given the easy-to-follow stock-characters-and-plots format of the sitcom.

Trouble is, they’ve got the structure down pat, but lack the skill and substance to make it funny, or even particularly amusing. Five actors (with the program promising guest improvisers at some performances, but not saying which) take on an appropriate array of stock types: a pompous theater director and her slightly dimbulb producer, who are trying to run a theater company in the basement of a church populated by a nice-guy preacher, a sweet-and-naive choir singer and a wacky old monsignor. The group is funniest when they’re nailing sitcom tropes, like the look-at-the-camera-and-smile credits sequence.

However, the mechanics of plot and interaction (at my performance, the episode theme picked out of a hat was the ‘dream’ episode) produce little besides fumbling amateur improv. It didn’t help that at the performance I saw the plot ended up following the choir singer, who must have been brought in to sing a song or two (her voice is lovely) because her ‘acting’ mostly consisted of repeating the last line spoken to her in a higher pitch. Anu Yadav does deserve credit for milking as many laughs with her expressive face as she can given the sluggish proceedings.

If you do decide to see this show, I recommend waiting until they are at Source, because the inexperience of some of the cast shows as their voices are lost in the echo chamber that is the Universe.

See it if: You give an A for effort.

Skip it if: You’re holding out for the holy grail: the Hilarious Fringe Improv Show.