THRONE OF GAMES (Bad Dog Theatre/Next Stage). See listing.
Times: January 9 at 9:30 pm, January 11 at 9:45 pm, January 12 at 2:30 pm, January 13 at 7:15 pm. $12-$15. 416-966-1062. Rating: NNN
Improv company Bad Dog Theatre does a tidy business parodying pop culture touchstones, and Throne Of Games - their spin on the blood-soaked medieval fantasy HBO series Game Of Thrones - seems like a no-brainer. After all, it features extreme violence, kinky sex, a bunch of vague accents and, oh yeah, the prospect of an endless winter.
With an ensemble of some of the best players in the city, the troupe is improvising straight through the series' first season at the festival (apparently they'll continue with season two later on at the Comedy Bar).
Unfortunately, I saw their opening episode, and I got the feeling they were still working things out. The show's ending was too abrupt - I believe someone even said "That's the end." More surprisingly, the improv elements were uneven. Some performers, like Mike "Nug" Nahrgang as the bombastic, lusty King Robert Baratheon, and Ken Hall, as the cunning dwarf Tyrion Lannister, encouraged audience suggestions. Others simply went through their scenes as if they were reenacting the TV show in their basement.
The rules for audience participation should be set out in a clearer fashion at the top. And why not have the cloaked Sean Tabares, who acted as narrator at the top of the show, continue that role throughout? He could even entice us to come back at the end.
Still, there was a lot to enjoy, including Kris Siddiqi's unhurried, self-serious take on the conflicted Eddard Stark (loved his riff about wearing so many belts) and Aurora Browne's authoritative and icy take on his wife, Catlyn. Sarah Hiller, one of the city's most spontaneous and alive improvisers, found all sorts of shenanigans as the Stark's tomboy daughter, Arya.
The sound design was effective as well, from the hilarious a capella version of the show's primal opening theme to a snatch of Sister Sledge's We Are Family during an incest scene.
Of course each show is different. And I've already been advised that this Wednesday's (January 9) edition features Mark Andrada reenacting over-age nipple-sucker Robyn's infamous "Make the bad man fly!" scene. Sure he will milk it for all it's worth.