I'm going to tell you something that, as an arts editor, maybe I shouldn't admit. I don't know much about David Mamet. I haven't read or seen any of his plays, but I did see a bit of Wag the Dog on TV once. So I was a little unsure about attending the National Theatre of the World's Impromptu Splendor, knowing it would be based to some degree on the works of David Mamet. Even though they assured me I would be fine.
Luckily, the Canadian trio was telling the truth. After seeing them perform Tuesday night, I'm confident you could be completely clueless about anything theatrical and you would still find their work impressive, intelligent, and funny. But if you are familiar with the playwright, I'm guessing it might deepen your appreciation for their performance even more. And we had a smart bunch at the group's Piccolo Fringe premiere on Tuesday. When group member Naomi Snieckus asked the audience to describe Mamet's works, many audience members chimed in. Then when she asked us to spill what we were currently angry or elated about in the world, different people mentioned unemployment, the Governator, "psycho Republican candidates for president," the weather, and the NBA finals. From there, member Matt Baram stood up and declared that the name of their improvised play would be Unemployed Heat.
Snieckus, Baram, and third member Ron Pederson quickly jumped into their roles as a typewriter salesman who thinks he's dying, an unemployed tweeter, and an unemployment office owner who wants to die, respectively. Pederson's character is frustrated with life and has a tendency to go on dramatic, hilarious tirades that usually end in a threat that he wants to go walk into the ocean. When he finally does (spoiler alert!), he leaves behind a note calling his kids "retarded assholes" and his wife a "refrigerated bitch." Snieckus plays a sweet and sensitive gal with "the essence of an angel." Baram's character, on the other hand, has the "aura of a hairy asshole," and he may or may not be using the claim that he's dying to get closer to the girl. Will one or both of the men die? Will love conquer in the end?
But the answer to that question really isn't important, nor is any plot summation, because this particular play will never happen again. The important thing is that I kept forgetting that everything the actors said or did was completely improvised. The action moved along at a pace that kept me invested throughout the one-hour play. Baram added another layer with several interjected asides that provided insights into the characters or gave historical background. The scene changes were mostly smooth and well-timed, cleverly aided by the use of a record player playing old jazz music — a really nice touch. There were a few loose ends, and a few places where things just didn't add up, but they were easy to overlook thanks to a steady stream of laughs. Although the end dragged just a little bit, Baram and Snieckus wrapped things up cleanly and humorously.
Improv comedy is always an impressive thing to watch, but the National Theatre of the World takes it to another level altogether. They'll be channeling different playwrights throughout the rest of their local run, including Tennessee Williams (June 1), Oscar Wilde (June 3), Sam Shepherd (June 4), and Anton Chekhov (June 5). Theater nerds and comedy fans alike shouldn't miss the chance to see this talented group in action.