HOUR TOWN, Union Palace Players, at Stage Left Theatre. Improv’s dirty little secret is that it isn’t all created out of thin air. Improvisers, at least the good ones, develop a repertoire of stock characters–goofy neighbor, dumb boss, neurotic nerd–they can draw on if the improv set starts to flag, which it does on all but the very best nights. Some improv comics even have bits they pull out. Not necessarily stock routines–though I’ve seen those too–but familiar themes they explore again and again when nothing else comes to mind.

Hour Town, the improvised late-night show now running at Stage Left, attempts to turn this improv secret to its advantage by asking the cast of six improvisers to play the same characters week after week. The program lists 28 citizens of “Hour Town” so that the audience can shout out who it would like to see next: Heinzie the paperboy or Reginald Smith the “aged thespian” or Lenore Desmond the “siren of the silver screen.”

But the setup is more intriguing than the show, which starts out trying to be a Free Associates-style improvised parody of Thornton Wilder’s classic Our Town and ends up as just one more desperate, aimless improvisation. Marred by awful acting, cliched characterizations, and truly graceless improvisation, it lacks both the playful spontaneity of pure improv and the polish and structure of a play.

–Jack Helbig