For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors and laugh at them in our turn? - Jane Austen
Occasionally, life gives us a truly ridiculous number of second chances. It's rare, but it does happen. Such was the case when I stumbled across an improv group based in Chicago (where we have an exceptional improv comedy scene in general), whose premise was creating on-the-spot improvised plays in the style of Jane Austen. I first saw them mentioned in an article in the Metromix section of the local free paper near the end of 2008, and in the past intervening two and a half years I approached basically everyone I knew about going. People moved away before we could go, they procrastinated making solid plans until the troupe had ended their engagement at a given theater, or they never responded to my invitations at all. Still, I followed The Improvised Jane Austen on Facebook, and held out hope that eventually I'd make it there.
Finally, the stars aligned and I was able to make it there tonight, though it took making a new friend for it to happen. Recently, I randomly ran into my old college friend, Brad, at a suburban liquor store when I was purchasing Calvados for my apple pie and apple sorbet experiments. He happened to mention that he and his wife were in the market for new couples to hang out with, having relocated last year to Chicago, so Justin and I went out to dinner with them a couple weeks later. There, I discovered that Brad's wife, Chaya, not only takes improv classes as a hobby, but is also into literature. Finally, it seemed, I had found the perfect person with whom to catch The Improvised Jane Austen.
The troupe is currently engaged in a run at the Chemically Imbalanced Theater, and their performance is prefaced with a ever-changing roster of opening acts. We saw an improv duo called "Dry Toast," who were approximately as exciting as their moniker implied. They were apparently engaged in a form of improv called a "Harold," though I didn't know that until I described it later to Justin, who was part of an improv group in college. They performed a series of tangentially related sketches, none of which were particularly funny, and I was mostly relieved when they were finally finished and the headlining act came on stage.
As one might expect, after three years of waiting to see The Improvised Jane Austen, it wasn't quite as good as I had built it up to be in my mind. Yes, it was a love letter to all the tropes and cliches of Austen's writing style, but at the same time, her books aren't necessarily known for their humor. To make things funny, the comediennes took the material to a bluer, raunchier place that Miss Austen would have found positively shocking. Most of the jokes were based on the male characters thrusting their crotches at people, and remarking about how "very masculine" they were. The remainder of the jokes had to do with the unfair disparities between a ridiculous but beautiful sister who is given preference by all over her intelligent but more plain sibling, which was, at least, textbook Austen.
The story they were spinning was hard to follow at best, and as far as I could tell, even the participants had trouble keeping their character's names straight. It did have its comedic moments, and I got more than a few laughs out of the performance, but on balance, it wasn't especially memorable. I'm glad I finally got to go and satisfy my curiosity, plus it was a perfect event to attend with a new friend, but in the future, if I want to get a much-needed dose of witty ladies and dashing gentlemen, I'll pop in a DVD of Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility and catch up with Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy, Marianne, and Elinor.