Credit: Claire Demos

There’s nothing written in stone about improv comedy being a young person’s game, but more often than not it turns out that way. For actors who’ve reached a certain level of prominence in their careers, it would seem that the prospect of stepping into the semi-masochistic world of show shirts and class levels and 10:30 PM midweek showtimes could be prohibitively off-putting.

And what a pity—because the truth is that performers who are experienced in relationship development and storytelling and onstage listening are among the best folks to try their hand at improv.

That’s part of the logic behind Michael Patrick Thornton’s simple yet illuminating show You & Me, which for five years has worked to bridge “the unnecessary divide between two great communities in Chicago.” In each set, the Gift Theatre cofounder and artistic director invites a single performer—some comedy veterans, some newbies, some formidably high-powered actors—to play opposite him in a series of lights-up scenes. No audience suggestions, no long-form structure.

At the performance I attended, actor Cory Hardin—an improv virgin—killed it in a series of scenes in which he and Thornton organically found their way to stories that ranged from dramatic realism to comic absurdity. In large part, You & Me is a testament to how safe stage partners are with Thornton, who masterfully and casually steers proceedings no matter how delightfully off track they get.

Upcoming guests such as Amy Morton (9/8) and Michael Shannon (9/15) need little promotion, but audiences would also do well to nab tickets to the sets featuring spectacularly funny actors Atra Asdou (8/31) and Sadieh Rifai (9/14).   v