Hideout Theatre's Dystopian Teen Future
In this take on Hunger Games and Divergent-style tales, the improvisers struggle to find a plot or laughs
Reviewed by Laura Jones, Fri., June 14, 2019
In the ideal world, comedic improv is quick, engaging, and hilarious, keeping the audience in stitches and on its toes. In Hideout Theatre's Dystopian Teen Future, improv was, unfortunately, none of those things – at least the night I dropped in – making the audience wish for a swift, painless end of the world. Apocalypse seemed preferable to sitting through the meandering hour-and-44-minute show, where I could literally watch the wheels turn in an actor's mind as they struggled to come up with what would happen next.
The premise started off strongly enough. In the not-so-distant future – between 75 and 150 years from now; the audience is encouraged to choose – a dark, oppressive force has taken over society, subjecting it to its own advantage. An annual event, known as a "happening" at our performance, exists to separate the wheat from the chaff, pitting young people against each other Hunger Games-style. Among the adolescents, one key character emerges as society's savior. Sound familiar? It should. The plot spoofs not only the Jennifer Lawrence vehicle, but also Divergent, Maze Runner, and many others of the genre. Life sucks. In the future, it's worse. Only a teenager of unique and heretofore untapped qualities can make it right. And scene!
If only it were that simple.
To me, the best of improv involves constant audience participation. It's one of the things we look forward to in such a show. The audience is allowed to break the fourth wall and engage, writing the show right along with the performers, throwing out difficult plot twists and what can be hilarious interventions. Even if the show ends up with some logical inconsistencies – which our performance did – we trust the actors and their sense of quick comedy enough to know that even if the plot makes little sense, the telling of it will lead to big laughs.
But the format of Dystopian Teen Future doesn't allow for that kind of interaction. The directors came out at the top of the show to ask for just three suggestions: a year, a name, and a quality we "like in our friends." That quality at our show turned out to be "reliability"; granted, not the most hilarious of suggestions. The society of DTF was then devoted to maintaining strict reliability, but by the second act, you wouldn't have known it. The suggestion fell to the wayside as the actors attempted to paint themselves out of a corner. If only they would've asked for more help. Or suggestions. I think all of us sitting in the seats were champing at the bit to lend them a hand.
Having said that, there are "off" nights at any improv, and it's true you never know what you're going to get. The next show may be totally different. But in the case of our performance, the ensemble was simply too slow and too flat, with only a few rare exceptions. (I'm talking to you, "other John" and "High Chancellor.") Costumes and makeup were intriguing, landing somewhere between Mad Max and video game chic. But when considering the first rule of improv, which is to "always say yes," this reviewer has to say "no" to this Hideout endeavor.
Dystopian Teen FutureHideout Theatre, 617 Congress
Through June 29
Running time: 1 hr., 45 min.