BROAD STAGE — The Impro Theatre is back in Santa Monica for the holiday season with “Jane Austen Unscripted,” one of the company’s most popular improvised shows. As produced in the intimate atmosphere of the Edye Second Space, this “unscripted” mélange of Austenesque situations and characters comes across with the elegance and wit of an actual Jane Austen story albeit with the absurd humor of a more polite version of Monty Python.
The Impro Theatre’s technique is to have the cast members (there are 13 in the entire company but seven company members perform in an individual show, rotating members with each performance) create a variety of character types whom they can summon at any moment to step into a scene. But there is no script for these characters. At each performance, a suggestion for a theme is taken from the audience and the company takes it as a starting point for the story.
At the Dec. 3, 4:30 p.m. performance, the audience-suggested theme was “how to cook a turkey,” not exactly something you’d find in a Jane Austen novel. Nevertheless, the invisible curtain rose on a pair of sisters discussing the cooking of a turkey, with one sister, Emily, cradling a young turkey in her arms and refusing to allow her “baby” to go to the cook stove.
Although references to turkeys, alive and otherwise, kept cropping up during the rest of the play, the ensemble concocted a more familiar Jane Austen storyline in which Susan was wooed by a middle-aged man with a taste for poetry and Emily fell for James, a young man from London with a penchant for skipping. After Emily and James skipped their way through a line dance, her father was scandalized (“They’re calling you the skipping girl!”) and took the family off to Bath where, of course, Emily met a standard Jane Austen rake. Yes, this was sort of a silly version of “Sense and Sensibility” with occasional turkey events.
Nothing fazes the Impro players. They work with minimum scenery and props (a table serves as “the instrument,” i.e. the pianoforte that an Austen heroine must always play upon); they do their own sound effects, and when a cell phone in the audience rings during the performance, an actor picks up on it, asking what time it is.
Sometimes characters forget their own names or their props, and sometimes they end up having two characters with the same name.
Don’t expect to see the turkey play when you attend — the theme will be different and the scenario may more closely resemble “Persuasion” or “Pride and Prejudice,” or something completely original.
But you will laugh a lot. Hopefully, you will see such cast members as Lisa Frederickson, who excels at playing annoying, whining ladies and who does great sound effects when offstage; Brian Michael Jones, who can play a bounder or a wheezing, wimpy fellow with equal abandon; Floyd Vanbuskirk, who provides dignity and depth even when playing a servant; and the irrepressible Paul Rogan (co-director with Dan O’Connor), who was born to wear a cravat and waistcoat.
“Jane Austen Unscripted” plays at the Broad Stage’s Edye Second Space through Dec. 18, at Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, 1310 11th Street. For more information call (310) 434-3412 or visit www.thebroadstage.com.