Night of the Mutant Harolds, Improv-Olympic. The greatest contribution the long-form exercise known as a Harold has made to improvisational theater is the way it forces energetic young performers to construct complex narratives rather than go for the quick, the cheap, or the loud laugh. The three variations on the Harold that comprise ImprovOlympic’s Night of the Mutant Harolds challenge the cast’s ingenuity even more–and with no script, ingenuity is of the essence. Having only their own experiences on which to draw for material, however, undermines a number of the “Monologue Harolds,” which are pretty threadbare: a woman raging at her mother as she shoots up drugs, a youth who repeatedly fails to impress girls. The “Dream Harold” likewise offers its participants an easy out, using “creepy childhood fantasies” as the basis for its story lines.

By far the riskiest venture of the evening is the “Solo Harold,” which puts a solitary player onstage to do the work of an entire ensemble. On the night I attended, this arduous task fell to Bob Ferson, a salty raconteur whose experience and ingenuity conjured up a group of college chums eventually done in by the rituals of their camaraderie and a young man seeking his fortune in the big city suddenly gripped by homesickness. Everything changes constantly in an improv show, of course, but Ferson’s intelligent humor and genial presence make Night of the Mutant Harolds worthy of note.

–Mary Shen Barnidge