I've long been blunt about the fact that I don't have much of a taste for improv. I don't like beer, bananas or iceberg lettuce either. It's just my preference.
I can, however, recognize when it is done well. And the one-night, two-shows-only Improvised Shakespeare Company does it very, very well.
What does "improvised Shakespeare" mean? Three men, in black breeches, red hose and those cute little white linen shirts with the lace-up necks that allowed for daring peeks of heaving chests take the stage. Three men, three chairs, otherwise bare stage.
After a quick introduction, someone in the crowd yells out a title. Joey Bland, Brendan Dowling and Blaine Swen spend the next 75 minutes fashioning rhyming couplets, quatrains and verses (even a song!) from that. A Shakespearean plot filled with death, dishonor, love and wrinkled but wise nurses unfolds as if by magic.
Every performance of the Improvised Shakespeare Company happens in real time. Every show is different. Every scene is different. Every line is different. The actors don't know what they're saying until they say it.
Neapolitans are a peculiar lot, especially the types that attend improv shows. Seriously, what is it with you people? The crowd at "Broadway's Next H!T Musical" offered up "Mahjong du Tart" as a possible title. Here, at Improvised Shakespeare, the first and loudest squawk from the audience was - and I kid you not - "PICKLE JUICE!" No one was obviously pregnant, so I'm curious who's making fine with the brine.
Aside from a few throwaway jokes, pickles don't figure into the show. Performers adopt a rough "Romeo & Juliet" style plot with a few elements of "The Taming of the Shrew" tossed in for good measure. Names (Benvolio, Bianca, Verona) are borrowed freely from whatever play comes to mind.
If the action hits a dead end (literally - Lionel Richie's corpse makes a cameo), there's always room for a song and dance number. Smart staging gives each actor brief breaks to ponder where next to steer the action or time to compose a grand soliloquy.
What makes Improv Shakespeare so much fun to watch - at least for anyone moderately up to date on both the Bard and pop culture - is the way that the company seamlessly blends dialogue, plot and action. Truly, this is one of the best improv shows out there.
Chris Silk is the arts writer and theater critic for the Naples Daily News. To read the longer version of this review, go to: http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2013/jan/20/review-improvised-shakespeare-company-naples-phil/