What men improvise about

What Men Talk About (While Women Make Us Wait)

Directed by Topping Haggerty
Midtown International Theatre Festival/Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex Stage II and Mainstage
312 West 36th Street (212/279-4200; www.midtownFestival.org; www.ticketcentral.com)
Non-union production (closes July 30)
Review by Charles Battersby

What Men Talk About typifies the dangers of improv. No matter how funny or talented the performers might be, you'll never get more than an evening of quick topical gags, and all too often you won't even get that. A cohesive story is hard to find -- and anything resembling an examination of the human condition, almost impossible.

In What Men Talk About the all male cast took a single suggestion from the audience: A location where men might wait for women. Then the Men improvised a one-act play using that location. When given the suggestion of "disco bar," the improv resulted in a rambling series of loose ends that took quite a while to go nowhere. Vain attempts were made by the well-trained cast to form some semblance of a story, but the best that they came up was a surprise party that never happened, along with a trip to Africa, which also never happened. Left in the dust were numerous non-sequiturs like references to ex-girlfriends, Pokemon conventions, and gay fathers. Wayne Parillo pulled off the best twist of the night, by deciding that the trip to Africa was just a cruel practical joke (which also saved the cast from having to mime their way through Africa).

Director Topping Haggerty has created an improv format that uses the absolute minimal amount of audience participation possible, with the cast only taking the location from the audience. Other long-form improvs frequently take character motivations and quirks from the audience, but Haggerty's Men were satisfied with just hearing "disco bar."

The Men also occasionally seemed to forget the fact that they were supposed to be in a disco bar. A well-stocked costume/prop bin backstage could have helped remind the cast (and audience) that they were in a disco, as could a well-prepared sound or lighting crew, but the improvisational nature of the show made this difficult (yet still possible). So no disco music or big-lapeled jackets made their way into the show, and the cocktail glasses had to be mimed (occasionally disappearing in the middle of scenes).

The show's title promised that the show would be from a uniquely male perspective, yet this was not true. Aside from an "American Pie" discussion about how one character's mom was hot (the performer's mother appeared to have been sitting in the front row), the cast gave few insights into what men actually do talk about when women make us wait. In fact the cast members rarely ever mentioned that they were waiting for anything, let alone women.

Of course the positive side to an improv show is that it's different every night. Haggerty has directed numerous improv and sketch shows, and the cast did demonstrate sound improv training, but alas the disco bar idea never quite metamorphosed into the one-act play promised. Perhaps the Men would have had better luck if someone had suggested "Victoria's Secret" or "Macy's."

(Also featuring Josh Kaplan, Tom McNeill, Rob Uttrich, Hugh Sinclair, and Mark Williamson.)

Box Score:

Writing (Improvised Dialogue): 0
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: N/A
Costumes: N/A
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby