The best moments of the Free Associates’ improvised parody of NBC’s ER don’t dwell on specifics but capture the overall feel of the show–the nail-biting tension in the emergency room, the life-and-death urgency of every injury, the smug self-importance of its impossibly resourceful physicians. But BS also works well when it caters to the TV show’s die-hard audience: a performer’s coy reference during a recent performance to a gruesome aspect of ER’s season premiere resulted in a rash of comic dismemberments. The parody’s creator, Mark Gagne, always had a good sense of the big picture, coaxing from the cast rich, detail-oriented performances, a multifaceted approach, and snappy pacing. Not surprisingly, the show suffered a precipitous drop in quality after he stepped down as the company’s artistic director last year–and it’s in much better shape now that he’s back in the chair, though it still hasn’t returned to its early high levels. Now in its eighth year, it’s one of the longest-running shows in Chicago and is still drawing huge crowds. The 1,000th performance is dedicated to late publicist Michelle Madden, who played a vital part in the show’s leap from imaginative upstart to institution. That performance is Monday, November 18, and it benefits the company: there will be refreshments and a silent auction at 6:30 PM, with the show at 8 PM. $35. Royal George Theatre Center, Gallery, 1641 N. Halsted, 312-988-9000. Open run: Fridays, 9:30 PM; Saturdays, 7:30 and 9:30 PM. $20.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jennifer Girard.