The Hideout Theatre’s Virtual Threefer
Three troupes Zoomed and Twitched their time upon the improv stage
Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., April 3, 2020
In the odd times that we find ourselves suffering through, we're seeing things we've never seen before. The Hideout Theatre's long-running Threefer show, for instance. Well, we've seen it before, sure: IRL, as they say, years ago. But we've never seen it performed live online, with Zoomed cameras streaming through Twitch.
And of course we'd not seen this show before, because the Threefer's lineup changes every week: three different sets of performers, whether solo or duo or a larger troupe, doing that improv stuff that keeps many a performer's mind agile and can delight many an audience's entertainment-hungry intellects.
The lineup: Shannon McCormick, the Knuckleball Now, and Coach Rookard Teaches Improve (Online). A threefer that, ahhhhh, does delight many an entertainment-hungry intellect.
Now, McCormick, doing his solo 100-year-old Dutchman thing, spinning off-the-cuff but remarkably coherent tales as 17th-century spice trader Cornelius Corneliuszoon De Vries, that was no different in this new format. He's not interacting with anyone, not juggling POV or having to coordinate who's on first, camerawise; it's simply McCormick's same Spices show, now via screen at home instead of onstage, so its success was predestined. McCormick took the audience suggestion of "muskrat" and treated his viewers to a wild tale of the ancient spice trader's journey to North America, where he falls in with a bunch of lycanthropic trappers and eventually, after some arch antics, gains the upper hand when the frontierwolves try to prank his tulip-stained ass with what they're calling a King Muskrat. Ripping good stuff, and replete with period verisimilitude – courtesy of history buff McCormick's deep well of knowledge.
But then, the Knuckleball Now. They're one of the local legends of improv, a crew that can seemingly do no wrong and that does much right, constantly and laugh-inducingly. Show after show after show? Yes – and that's rather difficult, because even for the well-trained and much-practiced, the consistency of group improv quality isn't easy to maintain. But, so, TKB: Craig Kotfas, Mike D'Alonzo, Lee Eddy, Ace Manning. And – Zooming in from L.A. – former Knuckleballer Michael Joplin. Unbeatable, right? But what about in this new paradigm? Most of them had never Zoomed before, even solo. And they'd never performed together virtually, their screens doing that modified Brady Bunch thing as they shuck and jive and try to bend impromptu gambits toward thematic relevance. You could tell at first: They were working out the possibilities as they went along, figuring how to best enter and exit the onscreen scenes, to attain something like the rhythms they've always enjoyed IRL. Each of the improvisers, working the audience suggestions ("weightlifting," "dating," "tacos," and more), was clever and invested, but ... smoothly flowing? Together? Not so much for about the first six or seven minutes of the 25-minute set. And then, I don't know exactly what set it off – Eddy, riffing on a character, moved aside and let Joplin take the screen for a minute before she returned and segued into a related scene with Kotfas? – but suddenly everyone seemed to get the medium they were using, and shit went into overdrive. The Knuckleballers worked the camera shifts to full effect, worked the camera effects to full power (Manning, roping a swan on the virtual lake behind him into performative duty; D'Alonzo, dissolving ghostlike into the backdrop), cutting and splicing the merging narratives, kicking improv ass and finally making Zoom their, uh, I suppose bitch is the correct word here.
And then Kevin Miller's Coach Rookard Teaches Improv (Online). An improv show about an improv class? Nigh on made for the new virtual stage. And the troupe nailed it, with Tatiana Jitkoff, Brandon Martin, Chase Coffield, Hannah Milam, Casey Quinlan, Cara Arlauskas, and Jeffrey Chatman playing the parts of students, and Miller embodying an archetypal high school coach so well that he might be memed like that for eternity. But the best thing – which worked only because the players were so capable – was that the layers of ludic interaction themselves were fascinating. Because there were the interacting performers playing improv students who, as those students, had to generate new and interacting characters for their "fake" improvisations. So at times there was something like a goofier sort of 3D chess going on, narratively. And as a sort of langiappe? With the advice that Miller was giving his young wards? You could actually learn a few things about how to improve your improv game.
So, yeah: The Hideout's Threefer. Now virtual, but no less really a fun time.