I remember someone bringing up Whose Line Is It Anyway? to Del Close, the Chicago improvisational theater master. A student said something to Del about the players on the show flying without a net. Del retorted, “They may be flying without a net, but they’re only three inches off the ground.” I took that to mean that he thought the level of challenge on the show was something he didn’t take seriously.

I wrote the first book about the improvisational theatre movement, Something Wonderful Right Away. Published in 1978, it was an oral history featuring many of the leading early directors, theoreticians and players in a movement that began with the work of Viola Spolin in the Thirties, formed the basis of the Compass Players in Chicago in the mid-Fifties and, under the guidance of Paul Sills, flowered into an institution called Second City in the Sixties. Since then, I’ve tried to keep my eye open for new permutations of improvisational presentations.

Hyprov is certainly a new one on me. The idea is that players who have been hypnotized by Asad Mecci find themselves in situational set-ups to play with Whose Line star Colin Mochrie. Presumably, being under gives them easier access to the intuitive, making them more likely to go with spontaneous impulses. Since the players are not professional performers, the implicit conclusion of the evening is that a lot of non-pros have it within them to partner with a comedy star and hold their own if freed from inhibitions.

As I say, the assumption is the players are non-pros. But this is New York, there is a huge community of improvisationally-trained actors, and Mochrie is an icon in that world. I had a hunch that, though I believed they went under, a couple of the final four players the night I saw it had improvisational backgrounds. Inexperienced improvisers don’t usually come up with callbacks. And a couple of times Mecci cautioned a player to take their character more seriously.

The main interest for me was to watch Mochrie cope with whatever was thrown at him by this handful of players previously unknown to him. Without straining, he was able to assimilate just about anything offered up and maintain his balance. It was a performance marked by intelligence, grace and modesty. And yes, he was consistently funny.

My hunch is that the degree to which you’ll enjoy the evening will depend on what expectations you have for improvisation. If you want an amusing evening of quips, cleverness and spontaneous wit, you will be satisfied. (I expect Del would grant that this is at least six inches off the ground.) If you’re looking for an evening of improvisation that offers insights into the human condition, you’d be better off waiting for TJ and Dave to return to town.

About dgsweet

I write for and about theater. I spent a number of years as a resident playwright of a theater in Chicago which put up 14 of my plays, and I still think of Chicago as my primary theatrical home, though I actually live in New York. I serve on the Council of the Dramatists Guild. Between plays, I write books, most notably SOMETHING WONDERFUL RIGHT AWAY (about Second City), THE O'NEILL (about the O'Neill Center) and THE DRAMATIST'S TOOLKIT (a text on playwriting craft). I also occasionally perform a solo show called YOU ONLY SHOOT THE ONES YOU LOVE. I enjoy visiting theaters outside of New York. I can be reached at dgsweet@aol.com.
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