Review: IMPROVISED SHAKESPEARE COMPANY at The Kennedy Center

Running through December 23rd.

By: Dec. 07, 2023
Review: IMPROVISED SHAKESPEARE COMPANY at The Kennedy Center
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On December 4th, The Improvised Shakespeare Company began their three-week residency at the Kennedy Center's Theatre Lab. The company members, consisting of Joey Bland, Ross Bryant, Brendan Dowling, Greg Hess, and Blaine Swen, all have (respectively) storied careers in the entertainment industry, but particularly in the world of improv, where they have performed with the titans of the art form; The Second City, Upright Citizens Brigade, etc. 

Review: IMPROVISED SHAKESPEARE COMPANY at The Kennedy Center
Photos Courtesy of The Improvised Shakespeare Company

However, this show is a bit unlike the improv one might see at those companies, because, like the name suggests, this show deals with improv that is Shakespearian in nature. While following improv convention in that audiences suggest subjects, and nothing is scripted at all, another layer, or perhaps flavoring is layered on here. The improvisers create a show under the confines (mostly) of Shakespearean syntax and vocabulary, they use the plot structures, themes, and genres of the Bard to create a "brand new, fully improvised Shakespearean masterpiece."

This show's suggestion came from a zealous member, and made the audience chuckle, the company repeated the suggestion for all to hear "A Lover's Stew." Swen reminded the audience that this would be the only ever showing of "A Lover's Stew" and then, the show started. 

Right from the start, the audience is shown how the next 90 minutes will go, as one of the members (for this performance, Ross Bryant) delivers a soliloquy in the conventions of the bard. Bryant delivered a scintillating paradox, pondering the nature of love and its relation to all things soup. After which Bland and Swen hop on stage to start the actual scenes. 

It would be superfluous to recount the plot of this show, as no two shows are ever the same, but it dealt with eternal themes of love, plotting, and aristocracy- all very Shakespearean. While it's possible one might be worried that an improv show focusing on Shakespeare might be boring, or over-intellectual, this was not the case. The improvisers used the Shakespearean language in an easy-to-understand way, and kept with the nature of improv, being very funny. 

Review: IMPROVISED SHAKESPEARE COMPANY at The Kennedy Center

The whole thing was rather impressive, and it is apparent the entire company is not only seasoned and talented improvisers but has done their homework when it comes to the verse nature of Shakespeare. There were more rhymes and callbacks than one can count and the audience was kept laughing thoroughly throughout and engaged with the plot, there were literal gasps throughout the show. 

What is also so fascinating about the production is its context. Yes, it is Shakespearean, however, there is no original text to be "loyal" to as with scripted Shakespeare. The company is free to reference contemporary culture and sprinkle in the occasional and comically effective anachronism. Unburdened by a text, they are able to break from the confining verse and speak "normally" to effect. 

The show was endearing, uproarious, and overall simply a good time, and it is clear in almost 20 years since its inception, the Improvised Shakespeare company has found its niche. Anyone who is a fan of improv or Shakespeare would be remiss if they miss this show. 

Information on tickets can be found on the Kennedy Center's website. The Sunday, December 10, 3pm show will include above stage, open captioning. For access needs, please visit the Kennedy Center's website. 



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