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Every year I put off the advent of the holiday season as long as humanly possible. It gets harder each cycle, now that holiday music and garland invade stores even as Halloween masks still hang on displays. So I put great weight behind the distinction of the indirect onslaught of the season and the first event I knowingly attend that features a holiday theme.
It’s enough to make me blue, not red and green.
This year, however, Washington Improv Theater’s Seasonal Disorder provided an easy slide into the inevitable. Because what typifies the holidays more than improv? The awkward pauses when everyone waits with baited breath to see what’s going to happen next, the unexpected twists and turns that you just couldn’t have predicted, and the collective drive to see the gathering to a successful end — even though you have no clue at the beginning as to how it’s going to work.
Describing an improvisation show is actually very much like the first morning back in the office after the holidays. Everyone generally had the same experience, but the details are all different. All you can really describe are your own adventures.
Last Friday, Nov. 30, at Source Theatre, the crowd gathered for W.I.T.’s holiday show was clearly excited to be there. Instead of the usual staid audiences that wait patiently for theater to begin, the crowd was loud and boisterous, chatting with the friend seated to the right and the stranger seated to the left. And everyone was making last minute changes to their questionnaires, ensuring they had the best answers to questions like ”worst gift ever received or given” and ”favorite family holiday tradition.” Part of the fun is trying to write answers that will trip up the actors — it’s the Mad Libs of theater!
When the six actors take the stage, it’s truly time for the holiday. On our evening, the set-up was your typical family recipe for disaster: Dad (Dan Hodapp) has returned from his exotic travels to Hartford, Conn., while estranged Seventh-Day Adventist Mom (Catherine Deadman) still can’t get over the banana incident from last year. Meanwhile, the gay brother (David Johnson) and his researcher boyfriend (Michael Bass) try to instill a little stability to the family, which is hard when your relatives are nuts. All this is narrated quite ably by our guide for the evening (Colin Murchie), who wonders if introducing his new non-confrontational girlfriend (Molly Murchie) to his family was such a good idea. It’s enough to make you spike the eggnog.
As the characters rotate on and off the stage, the chemistry between and amongst them varies considerably. We’ve all been caught in that horrible conversation with a family member that seems to go nowhere, but you’re trapped and your older sister would rather watch you suffer than rescue you (or is it just me?). Fortunately, W.I.T.’s actors know when the life preserver needs to be thrown and jump in for a scene change.
Yet it’s sometimes the seemingly throwaway lines used to fill the void that get the biggest laugh. For example, as the gay son struggles to understand the sports game his father is watching, his silence-filling ”I love you” provides a thread for the rest of the evening. So much so that you wonder if it wasn’t a throwaway line after all. Is that a common theme, or are they that good? When you’re laughing, it doesn’t really matter.
Seasonal Disorder is funny enough to entertain, yet has a bitter edge to cut through the usual holiday saccharine confections. Running only an hour in length, it’s a great addition to your holiday agenda.