Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre – Laughs When We Desperately Need Them
Something special and downright hilarious is happening this month at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre. The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre – whose famous alumni include Amy Poehler, Kate McKinnon, Bobby Moynihan, Horatio Sanz, and many more – are taking over the stage through July 31, bringing the group’s special brand of long form improvisation. Each night four incredibly talented performers make it up as they go along, no pre-planning or rehearsal, so each show is entirely unique.
Brandon Scott Jones and Connor Ratliff
If your idea of improv is Whose Line is it Anyway?, what UCB does is very different. Rather than short skits, long form improv, pioneered by Del Close in Chicago in the 1980s, has the performers create an entire show. Not only is length a challenge – UCB’s production at Woolly Mammoth runs more than one hour and 30 minutes – but keeping the characters and scenes connected and the laughs coming places huge demands on these comedians. Fortunately, the four now appearing in We Know How You Die!, are up to the challenge.
Improv is a crowd pleaser because the audience has a chance to participate in the fun. The Saturday evening we attended, dozens of hands went up when UCB member – the absolutely amazing Shannon O’Neill – asked, “Who wants to know how they die?” Among those who volunteered, O’Neill asked another question, “Tell us something unique about yourself.” One woman said she had a piece of metal in her pinky finger, the result of an accident. A college student admitted that she met her nursery school teacher at a party and the woman offered to roll her a joint. Still another woman (where were the men that night?!) talked about treating her husband as a “boy toy.”
After conferring with her colleagues, O’Neill invited the woman with the metal in her finger to join them on the stage. The young woman, who explained that she ran a service helping people present themselves better on dating sites, was a virtual treasure trove of information that the performers used well in the improv that followed.
Molly Thomas and Connor Ratlif
Besides O’Neill, Connor Ratliff, Brandon Scott Jones, and Molly Thomas, helped to tell the young woman’s story. The four obviously are comfortable working together, and moved in and out of scenes with nary a pause in the action or laughs. Improv not only tests the actors with their mental and verbal skills, but requires a great deal of physical movement. Thomas was brilliant, at one point impersonating the actual dating app being shaken up by O’Neill’s character. And Jones transformed himself into the woman’s dog, named Scruffy. Ratliff stood out for his ability to morph seamlessly from one character into another, many times keeping a straight face despite the absurdity of the situation.
My guess is that true fans will be attending this show more than once while UCB is in residence. Each night is another adventure and another opportunity to laugh out loud. Don’t miss the fun.
Photos courtesy of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Top photo: Shannon O’Neill, Brandon Scott Jones, Connor Ratliff, and Molly Thomas
We Know How You Die!
United Citizens Brigade
Woolly Mammoth Theatre
641 D Street NW