Friday, August 04, 2017

Fringe 2017 - Review - Blackout Improv - Rogues Gallery Arts - 5 stars

tweet review - For #mnfringe show 2, @blackoutimprov gives us a musical guest followed by 45 minutes of swag hat conversation and improv comedy - 5 stars

Mom enjoyed Blackout Improv just as much as I thought she would.  In fact, she enjoyed it so much she wanted a little less of the musical guest and more of their signature Swag Hat conversation and improv.  Blackout Improv normally gets a full two hour late night stretch in their monthly shows, so this condensed version, even pushing the one hour mark, definitely leaves you wanting more (in a good way).  The musical guest we got in their opening performance (it changes with each time) was Queen Drea, mixing a new track musically and vocally on the spot and then layering in social commentary incited by the City Pages.  Mistress of ceremonies for Blackout Improv this time was Joy Dolo, and she was joined in this outing by Theo Langason, Duck Washington, Nimene Wureh, and their house musician Khary Jackson.  (The ensemble of any given show mixes and matches between those mentioned and additional members Denzel Belin, Alyssa DiVirgillio, John Gebretatose, and Kory Pullam.  The musical guest also gets in on the talk and improv action.)

“This is the best first Fringe show ever.  We talked about cheese and said n*gger a lot.”

For the uninitiated, the way that the Swag Hat works is that Blackout performers hit the lobby prior to the show and solicit audience members to offer suggestions for topics they might talk about and then improv springing from that conversation.  Give ‘em the hard stuff - police brutality, voter suppression, white privilege, institutional racism, criminal justice reform, war on drugs, school to prison pipeline, the name of any one of far too many people of color killed by law enforcement (and let’s face it, we’ve had our stories to add to that list of sorrows in the Twin Cities area).

“I’m afraid of puppets.  I know that’s sacrilege in the Twin Cities theater community.”

We got some softballs drawn from the hat - Chuck E. Cheese, Maxine Waters - but we also got some trickier territory - Confederate flags, homosexuality, and representation in entertainment.  All the discussions were nuanced and complicated, and led to extremely funny and odd flights of improv comedy immediately after.  This edition had Busta Rhymes on Sesame Street, a battle with cheese for a man’s soul, the inability of a cartoonists to draw anyone who wasn’t white, and much much more.

“Did you bring the Elmo?”
“Tickle me! Tickle me!”

Even more than with most live theater, every show with improv comedy is very, very different.  Mom’s only going to get to see Blackout Improv once, but I’m definitely hoping for a return trip before Fringe is over to get some more (their other Fringe performances are Saturday 8/5 at 7pm, Monday 8/7 at 8:30pm, Wednesday 8/9 at 5:30pm, and Thursday 8/10 at 8:30pm).  They can pack the place, they have a following and the Phoenix is their home, so be sure to either get there early or make a reservation so you don't get locked out.

Smart comedy that’s actually about something is so rare (improv can struggle with that even more), so something like Blackout Improv is a real treasure, in or out of the Fringe landscape.  (After Fringe is over, there’s the monthly two hour shows at Phoenix, so if you’re a night owl, you should definitely make Blackout Improv a part of your regular entertainment diet.)

5 stars, Very Highly Recommended

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