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Ensemble, Viable Theatre Company, at the Performance Loft, Second Unitarian Church of Chicago. If there’s one thing that can be said about writer-director Vincent Truman’s satire of the Chicago improv scene, it’s that the curtains in the Performance Loft are blue. An inoffensive shade of blue, actually–providing the evening’s only subtlety since the rest of Ensemble has all the finesse of a jackhammer. The conceit is that pompous, cocksure director Stan Lowell has assembled a dysfunctional improv troupe: an obsessive note taker, a goofy Method actor, a flaming homosexual, a token minority figure, and a mildly retarded guy. But this Breakfast Club-style group offers only the most stereotypical of cross sections–and it’s about as deep as Truman’s exposé of the incestuous, backstabbing world of Chicago improv gets.
Paying ten bucks to watch a group of real-life self-absorbed improvisers play out their personal traumas onstage is one thing, but it’s downright impossible to justify the price of Ensemble, a play that doesn’t warrant a blurb so much as an epitaph. The fact that it aims to be self-consciously terrible is no excuse. It’s still terrible–worse, perhaps, for all the effort that’s gone into it. “I hate watching improv,” Lowell grouses after watching his cast stumble through yet another round of dull, uninspired scenes. But imagine what the audience must be saying after Truman’s cast sleepwalks through his languid, self-congratulatory, impotent script. –Nick Green