Underground Improv, Southwestern College’s masters of winging it, flew into the wall during its fall 2014 debut show.
Normally witty, edgy and funny, the troupe limped across broken shards of improvisation doctrine and left the audience awkwardly silent nearly as much as it had them laughing.
Underground’s rendition of the “Mormon Tabernacle Choir” began with members Auster Cruz and Braulio Fernandez discussing their plans for world peace. Their quest, however, was DOA as Fernandez monotonously asked Cruz question after question, turning a potentially-wonderful scene into a diabolical game of 20 Questions. Veteran improver Amanda Guerrero salvaged the scene with the night’s first laughs.
Guerrero and Julianna Sobejana shone in “Half Life,” an improv that begins like a standard scene, but the time available to complete it is halved exponentially. Sobejana and Guerrero’s drama about two teens dealing with acne and a dead end job at McDonald’s was identifiable and hilarious, especially when they were forced to complete it in four seconds.
They continued to impress along with poetic narrators Luiz Torres and John Lopez who translated a foreign language scene between Sobejana and Guerrero in rhyming couplets. This tragedy of two Koreans’ love of dance had the audience roaring with laughter.
Cruz, Guerrero and Lopez fumbled through “Actor’s Nightmare” – a scene where one actor reads a scripted part, in this case from “The Dining Room” by A. R. Gurney, and the other actors improv around it. Guerrero’s choice to act the scene out as a dog stole many laughs and left Lopez alone to take on all the challenge of the scene. This led to an uncomfortable performance.
Underground’s serious scene was no better.
Cruz and Guerrero played a couple dealing with marital infidelity as a third party member gave them funny personality quirks to further complicate the situation. Though these idiosyncrasies were genuinely hilarious, the dialog driven by sarcasm ruined the flow. Guerrero lost the audience with long, padded monologues.
Blocking, when one actor says “no” to another, was rampant throughout the whole show.
Fernandez’s redemption came at the beginning of the second act. In a scene called “CSI Chula Vista,” Lopez interrogated Fernandez as Torres pantomimed a crime and its details for Fernandez to tell officer Lopez.
Fernandez and his accomplice Torres worked perfectly in sync, until the location of the crime came into question. For more than 10 minutes Torres worked tirelessly to get Fernandez to say “wiener schnitzel,” going above and beyond the call of duty and into XXX pantomiming. It was funny and in perfect form.
Underground gave the audience excellent variety and an education on nuance in each scene. This likely created new improv enthusiasts in the audience who went home and tried out some sketches with family and friends.
Though blunderous, Underground Improv’s opening night showed promise as well as the courage to take risks on stage, something less than one percent of all Americans would even remotely consider trying.
One thing is certain, their next show will be different.