UCB returns to delight its devoted Charleston audience 

Super wits and the curse of the empty purse

Saturday night marked the seventh appearance of the Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company at Piccolo Fringe, and their solid set was met with a sold-out crowd at Theatre 99. In the short time I waited to enter the theater, more than 30 people were turned away for lack of tickets. A crowd of young couples sat waiting for the show with talkative anticipation, even with the late showtime.

The show was split into two sections. The first improv game had the group interviewing an audience member on stage, rifling through her purse and phone for details about her life. The shy participant was a crisis negotiator originally from Ohio, who liked to spend a lot of time at the beach. Unfortunately for the interviewer, she could not share details of recent bridge jumpings or attempted negotiations.

This part of the show was the most frustrating, as it dragged on and provided a slow start to the performance. One of the troupe members even vented his aggravation at finding nothing in her purse useful for their improv.

Once the crisis negotiator's details were gleaned (which included a gem about her having a masters degree in substance abuse), the Brigade quickly moved through improv scenes that were at times light and other times off-color, but overall quite funny. Charleston-related references to the beach and oysters were welcome, while Southern stereotypes and cheap gags were smartly avoided.

A particularly successful bit had a "small Indian man who eats a lot of cereal" as part of an apartment's lease agreement. The performer never talked, just shook his head and ate his cereal. Funny and mercifully free of a silly accent.

After the intermission, single text messages were requested to form the basis for improv scenes, which moved quickly. "The mystery of the missing thong" was hilariously interpreted as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle going to his book publisher with a new manuscript, not of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, but of steamy erotic tales. This bit lasted for less than 10 minutes.

And here the genius of the Upright Citizens Brigade became clear. The performers hit their marks more often than missing them. The audience laughed out loud. The comedians themselves laughed at each other's jokes and quips. They referred back to previous bits to emphasize funny jokes.

These were performers enjoying the moment, and an audience eagerly appreciating them for it. And before I knew it, the lights came up, leaving me wanting more.


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