THERAPY, ImprovOlympic. At first the notion of an improvisation based on group-therapy sessions seems redundant–after all, isn’t the social dynamic of many therapy groups much the same as in a classroom improv game? Once Therapy gets under way, however, the discipline becomes apparent: one player describes an allegedly personal experience, and the others act out scenes illustrating the situation’s subtext. ImprovOlympic’s 30-second parables may be as facile as a literal interpretation of some pop-psych buzzword–“Why am I still in your world?”–or as subtle as lovers at first sight beginning their conversation with “Yes! And we’ll name the first one Sean!” (The topic was male-female relationships, by the way.)
But problems arise when audience members are encouraged to chime in whenever the spirit moves them rather than only when asked, as is customary in improv. Spontaneous remarks from all corners of the room frequently distract the players, who need concentration to be creative. And of the seven ensemble members, only Brian Boland and Miles Stroth attempt voices or genders other than their own. The other players are largely content to stick with a single character all night, making one wonder how much of Therapy’s therapy is artifice.
Of course improvised performances vary widely. But on the night I attended, the audience amateurs and the onstage professionals seemed to be given nearly equal time. And is that what one pays admission to see?
–Mary Shen Barnidge