HOUSEdressing, Zebra Crossing Theatre.

At a time when Chicago is awash with talented, sensitive, intelligent improvisers, the awkward, unseasoned, but not untalented performers who make up HOUSEdressing serve an important function: they show that pure improv is a lot harder than it looks. And they do it the hard way, by flopping and flailing around the stage, denying each other like crazy, and boring the pants off the audience.

The show’s premise will be familiar to any fan of long-form improvisation: three suggestions from the audience are used to ad-lib three “scenarios.” The show’s failings will also be familiar: the performers are so concerned with being funny or “saving the show” they don’t listen to each other carefully. When they do listen they waste valuable time commenting on each other’s work. Minor slips turn into major problems, and opportunities to get a scene back on track are lost when someone goes for an easy laugh. Early in the show, for example, Jennifer Clymer, improvising on the thankless topic of “sex,” asked Jenn Biddle what the family dog was doing in the front yard, and from Clymer’s description the dog was clearly mating. Yet Biddle replied, “Oh, she’s dead.” It was a rough, tiresome, two-hour journey to the final curtain.