One-man shows are hard. Improv shows are harder. But a one-man improv show? SHOW UP, written and performed by Peter Michael Marino and now playing at 59E59 Theaters as part of their annual East to Edinburgh series, breaks all tradition by pulling together a genuinely funny one-man improv show that surprises and delights. There is, technically, a script, but Marino metaphorically defenestrates the thing within a few quick moments of stepping to the center of the performance space. It should be a recipe for disaster, but, with a few final flourishes that neatly wrap the package in a bow at the end, instead delivers an experience that leaves everyone smiling and satisfied, chatting with their new performance buddies.
Marino takes the whole thing beyond the one-man show designation because his improvised story is drawn from the real-life experiences of his audience members, though they are scrambled together in a way that makes them unrecognizable and therefore collectively funnier than their individual parts. On the night of the first performance, the story resembled a Southern Gothic, complete with matricide, lightning strikes, and broken hearts. It was further supplemented with a little disco fever and some multi-accented multiple personalities. Mystery music cues set the tone for each segment of the performance and an impressed set designer – even a reluctant one — added more than a touch of merriment to the proceedings.
Marino, for all his talk of being an unlovable black sheep, is a very endearing presence. His self-deprecating humor and earnest delivery, though it took a minute to warm up to where he was going with it all, set the audience at ease in a way only a seasoned performer can. Despite a claim of social anxiety, he was not only relaxed with the crowd, but set them at ease enough to convince his volunteers to readily offer potentially painful moments from their lives for the sake of everyone’s continuing amusement of the rest. “I get a lot of murders, actually,” he confided after the performance. And yet it all came together as well as it should, with a lot of good-natured joking and the obvious desire to see where he was going to take it all next. Everyone stayed a little late to continue the conversation started in those first moments of the performance, shaking hands, and asking each other for details of their experiences.
At an hour long, SHOW UP is the kind of performance that feels like it could go on for significantly longer, but sadly must come to an end. A few moments of exposition between the end of the improvised play and the audience mingling brought the energy down, but it was the only less-than-stellar portion of the evening. It makes this viewer wish to know what kinds of experiences the crowd in Edinburgh will bequeath upon Marino for the benefit of his ongoing experiment in shared spectacle. It’s sure to be hilarious.
Photo Credit: Alicia Levy
Written & performed by Peter Michael Marino
Directed by Michole Biancosino
July 18 at 8:30 p.m., July 22 at 4:30 p.m.