the arts

1 a.m.: No sloppy seconds

What time is it? 1 a.m. – i.e., the fiercely enjoyable brain warp that is improv duo Chris Trew and Tami Nelson

By Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., July 20, 2007

1 a.m.: No sloppy seconds

You want to know what time it is? We'll tell you what time it is: It's 1 a.m., and it's time for improv. The world is a big clockworks, see, and, if we're fortunate, then this world's gears mesh as interestingly as the improvisations of facial-hair impresario Chris Trew and wily wiseacre Tami Nelson. Onstage together, the two are known as 1 a.m.

Some who witness the machinations of 1 a.m. might not consider such meshing as fortunate. This is because those witnesses are, we'd suggest, at least in this instance, dolts. This is because those witnesses want their improv no more outré than the tangents assayed to accommodate a spur-of-the-moment narrative and its conclusion. You're not going to get that from 1 a.m., most likely, and it's not because they can't give it to you. You're going to get scenaria and dialogues that partake of the self-aware, the metafictive, the sort of performative apparatus more intricately constructed by nonimprovisers Pinter and Beckett, and you're going to get that on purpose.

Trew and Nelson, two parts of the ex-Nyawlins improv powerhouse called ColdTowne, work their weird magic in one long continuous scene, without flashbacks, without narrative cutaways. Just two people extending a real-time relationship based on audience suggestion, each working to match whatever bizarre tack the other has gone off on. And, yes, that's what improvising is basically about. But the way 1 a.m. goes at it, it's both transparent and tricky, sometimes offering an illusion of gear lock that turns out to be a working part of their mechanism, and then, wham, you're shaking with laughter.

This is comedy improv, after all, and they don't let you forget that. While you're gamely following the twists of plot and dialogue, you'll likely think two things: 1) that Trew is out of his fucking mind and 2) that Nelson's reactions to such madness are the sharpest and fastest this side of The Matrix's bullet time. Also, Nelson is funny. Not just ingenious in her improv gambits, not just wacky in a weird situation, although she's got that as well, but funny in an arch and knowing way, like Dorothy Parker on a good day.

All of this is what helps inform the excellence of the larger ColdTowne, which we'll talk more about in a later review. As witnessed at the Hideout's Threefer show, it's also what's distilled, in the duo dynamics of 1 a.m., into a fiercely enjoyable brain warp of a time.

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