IMPROV-A-HOLICS, at Phoenix Ascending Theatre. Improv is a harsh mistress. You can practice and practice, pay hundreds of dollars to the local improv gurus, learn every game ever developed, and still fall on your face. Of course, the ideal is to be having so much fun even the audience doesn’t care about the mistakes. But how many performers can do that? Certainly no one in this new improv troupe, made up of recent grads of the Players Workshop. Nor will any of them be mastering the craft anytime soon, judging by the soporific show I saw.

Stealing a page from the ComedySportz folks–with a nod to the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway?–the Improv-a-holics divide up into two teams that compete against each other for valueless prizes. If you’ve seen any traditional game-oriented improv, you’ve seen their format–and you’ve probably seen the games done better.

If there are any diamonds in this troupe, they’re still too rough to be recognized. Not that these performers, though green, don’t have their strengths. They give and take very well, listening attentively to one another and building nicely on others’ improvisations. They do tend to go for the joke fast, but so do the ComedySportz guys. But then the ComedySportz guys also manage to entertain while the Improv-a-holics only wallow in their addiction.

–Jack Helbig