Review: ‘The Damnation Game’
It’s a helluva hot time at the Improv Inferno
How do you like your men, five improvisers – most of whom I’ll assume are straight – were asked at the start of last Friday night’s performance of “The Damnation Game” at the hot new comedy lounge, The Improv Inferno.”
“All charged up,” responded a sultry Lauren Bickers, comparing men to cell phones.
The loud laughs and hearty applause that followed were signs that both the improvisers and the mostly 20-something crowd were totally in-synch for a rollicking evening of adult comedy.
They weren’t disappointed!
Most improvisational comedy staged in southeast Michigan is performed by vagabond troupes that set up shop at any venue that will have them. A few, like the Ant Colony at Planet Ant, have a home base from which they work.
Chicago-transplant Dan Izzo, however, had a better idea. Why not open a small club that specializes in improvisational comedy – and locate it in a high-traffic area that attracts the diverse customer base that ideally supports such operations in other parts of the country?
So what was once the long-closed Crow Bar on South Main Street in downtown Ann Arbor has become The Improv Inferno, a comedy lounge that specializes in made-up-on-the-spot comedy. And twice a night on Fridays and Saturdays, Izzo hosts his pride and joy, the devilishly delightful “The Damnation Game.”
Bedecked in a snazzy suit, red shirt, tie and spiffy red shoes, the bald-headed and very funny Izzo rides herd over five improvisers and a prize girl in an interactive evening set in hell. Consider it part “Whose Line is it Anyway?” and part “Match Game ’77,” with cheap prizes reminiscent of “Let’s Make a Deal.” (Remember Rice-a-Roni? He has a shelf full of the stuff!)
As customers enter the club they are asked to fill out a short form that gathers information to be used throughout the evening. The sheets are collected before the start of the show and poured over by the improvisers, each of whom selects someone from the audience to represent throughout the game. (Hint: The five who submit the most creative, original and intriguing responses will more than likely become the contestants!) The person whose improviser is awarded the most points by the end of the show – points MATTER in this production – gets to pick a prize from the well-stocked Prize Wall.
Most of the skits presented last Friday night were fresh and funny; the cast especially excelled whenever audience members participated in a scene. But like all improv shows, a few bombed – and were mercifully stopped by a skillful Izzo who, with impeccable timing, guided the evening’s festivities.
The improvisers – like the audience – are different each night, culled from a familiar ensemble of 10. Last Friday night’s 10 p.m. performance featured the talents of Bickers, Brian Hatch (possibly the cutest and best dressed improviser in town), Mark Sobelewski, Nick Smith and Mike McGettigan. Each had a moment or two in which to shine!
“The Damnation Game” Staged Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. (rated PG-13) and 10 p.m. (rated R) at Improv Inferno, 309 S. Main, Ann Arbor. Tickets: $10. Other events: A one-act comedy, “Trailer Park Traci Almost Saves Christmas,” runs Wednesday nights; Thursday hosts “The Catfight,” featuring the area’s hottest improv groups as they battle to become The Baddest Cat in the Fight at 8 p.m., and “High Octane” featuring cocktails and comedy at 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday features “The X Show” at midnight; and open mike night rules on Sunday with “Get Up Stand Up.” Tickets: $5. 734-214-7080. www.improvinferno.com.
Five nights of comedy plus cocktails at reasonable prices equals a devil of a good time at Improv Inferno!
Tidbits: News from Around Town
‘Carols for a Cure’; ‘Knocking on Noel Night’
ITEM: Looking for that perfect Holiday gift for that special theater-lover in your life? If so, consider Rock-it Science Records’ latest release, “Broadway’s Greatest Gifts: Carols for a Cure 2004.”
A double CD with 23 tracks, the collection features original recordings of new and traditional holiday carols performed by almost every cast currently on Broadway, from “Avenue Q” to the “Boy from Oz.” It features Michael McKean (“Hairspray”), Annette O’Toole (“Smallville”), Tovah Feldshuh (“Golda’s Balcony”), Hugh Panaro (“Phantom of the Opera”) and Carole Shelley (“Wicked”).
The CD is an annual fundraiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. It costs $20 and can be purchased only online at www.broadwaycares.org.
ITEM: “Who’s that Knocking on Noel Night,” you might be asking yourself? Why, it’s none other than the kids from Matrix Theatre’s Playbuilders and Community Puppets. Young people ages 6 to 16 are staging the adaptation of “Who’s that Knocking on Christmas Eve?” by Jan Brett and the Scandinavian folktale “The Big White Pussycat” on Saturday, Dec. 11 at 4 p.m. at Matrix Theatre, 2730 Bagley in Detroit.
It’s a fun-filled fairy tale featuring cute kids in masks and costumes they built themselves. How cool is that?
For complete information about this special holiday treat, call Matrix Theatre at 313-967-0999.