ABOUT AN HOUR created and performed by Rob Baker, Jan Caruana, Kerry Griffin and Alex Hatz, directed by Lisa Merchant (Bad Dog, 138 Danforth). Runs Fridays to November 24. $10. 416-491-3115. See Comedy listings, page 137. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Of all the things you can do in an hour, one of the most entertaining is surely parking yourself at the Bad Dog Theatre on a Friday night for some first-rate improv comedy.
The brainchild of producers/performers Rob Baker and Alex Hatz , About An Hour 's concept is as simple as its execution is difficult: deliver a long-form show inspired by a single audience suggestion, set in real time. No flashbacks to fill in character history, no monologues, no tapping your colleagues' shoulders to move on to another scene.
The improvisers must rely instead on theatrical basics like building character and conflict. Imagine an impromptu episode of 24 with laughs instead of gunshots.
At last Friday's opener, the four-person troupe, directed by Lisa Merchant , came up with a clever show set at two neighbouring Queen Street stores, one a furniture repair shop (the audience suggestion was "furniture polish") run by a lonely owner ( Kerry Griffin ), the other an art gallery run by the anal-retentive Katz, with Baker his quirky assistant.
Jan Caruana played a woman looking to get her grandmother's armoire restored. She also turned out to be the assistant's ambivalent girlfriend.
The best improv consists of sharing, and whenever Griffin and Caruana were in a scene they pushed the situations the furthest, listening to others and providing details that sparked the imagination. The scenes in the furniture shop were more vivid than those at the art gallery.
No wonder Katz himself doubled as an old Eastern European type who wanted to trade in his couch for the armoire. His detailed recounting of his couch's history provided the night's biggest laughs, although Baker had some snappy lines whenever somebody muffed the show's logic.
Laugh all you like, but an awkward ending can ruin a show. The About An Hour team came through with a final series of scenes that felt as relaxed and satisfying as the end of a good play.