TRANSFORMATIONS 2000, Piven Theatre Workshop. I was introduced to improv in 1969, when a hippie troupe came to my elementary school and performed a very spacey fully improvised show on the theme of peace and love. I vividly recall an excruciatingly long scene in which a guy and two girls pretended our school gym was a field of flowers and stopped to smell each and every one of them.
Byrne Piven’s well-intentioned but empty evening, a hybrid of pure improvisational games and partly scripted story-theater scenes, took me back to those days–though even its slowest moments never approached the baffling tedium of that suburban children’s-theater troupe. But Piven’s eclectic approach–he seems to have crammed in every improv game and improv-based theater style taught at the Piven Theatre Workshop–and his refusal to shape his material suggest the worst excesses of the anarchic late 60s. The topic is a meaty one–technology and its effect on the human spirit–but in sketch after sketch, on cloning and virtual sex and in vitro fertilization, the players fail to present anything new.
Yet Piven’s tight, playful ensemble seems ready for anything. They treat one another with respect, never hog the spotlight, and commit fully to whatever’s going on, no matter how cliched or flat, especially shining during the mirroring and transformation exercises at the top of the show and after intermission. Too bad they don’t have better material.