BS, Free Associates, at the Royal George Theatre Center. The Free Associates’ recently departed artistic director, Mark Gagne, had an uncanny knack for finding the comedy in neurotic characters without indulging in grotesque stereotypes, as evidenced in this long-running send-up of ER. But BS has changed so much since the Free Associates set up shop at the Royal George in February that it’s almost impossible to advertise it as the same show.
Since Gagne moved on to other projects earlier this year, the company has been without its artistic anchor. Still, as recently as April, many of the company’s regulars were playing the medical professionals of Benevolent Saints Hospital–but only one member of that cast remains now. Even if you make allowances for growing pains, the show is much the worse for the change: the new ensemble haven’t been trained to respect one another’s input, and few look as if they’ve even seen ER lately. The Free Associates have attempted to keep things fresh, in part by abandoning their former highly structured approach to long-form improv–that is, taking suggestions and plotting the scenario backstage for a good 15 minutes before delving into the piece. Ultimately this decision might pan out, but at this point it seems foolhardy: without even an ounce of that rigid structure, the Free Associates no longer provide what made them unique–seamless, intelligently ordered parodies.