Improv refreshes literature

In the modern world of live entertainment, Jane Austen UnScripted is a true gem. Skillfully executed by Impro Theatre company, the play is completely improvised and powered by the viewers’ suggestions. The audience’s involvement gives the performance a special meaning because every show is unque.

Spontaneity · The Impro Theater’s performance of Jane Austen UnScripted impresses with its comedic and dramatic use of improv. - Photo courtesy of Alison Incontanti

Though the content of each performance differs every night, the style of each performance is the same. Prior to the performance, Impro Theatre actors dedicated themselves to the study of English novelist Jane Austen’s storytelling techniques and characters. They educated themselves in the culture of the era of her novels and made sure to dress and speak in the style of Austen’s time period.

The play could not be the hit that it is without the skill of its cast. Eleven of Impro Theatre’s members perform in the inventive show, all with their own style of improvisation.  With no time to prepare back story or study their character, it is delightful to witness the ease in which these actors operate.

Quick on the draw, each member of the cast deals with verbal slip-ups with such adept comedic timing that it leaves the audience laughing, not cringing. This is not awkward improv in the least; if anything, the rare out-of-character stumbles make the whole experience all the more charming.

And the play isn’t just restricted to comedy; the cast has the ability to turn audience suggestion into everything from a family drama to a love story. It’s important to note that this ability isn’t always the case with improv. There’s great skill in keeping an audience laughing, but there’s even greater skill in keeping the audience emotionally involved in the story.

All cast members have their own way of exaggerating their expressions, and though all are talented and fun to watch, one cast member in particular, Dan O’Connor, stands out. His hilarious facial expressions allow him to communicate his character’s emotions without words, and his cast members play off of him well.

Also, pay close attention to Stephen Kearin, a delightful redhead with notably quirky hair. Kearin is a true example of how acting is not just verbal: Though he is perhaps one of the quietest actors onstage, Kearin plays one of the grandest roles. It is not easy to play a quiet role while still maintaining a lasting presence onstage, but Kearin does so in such an effortless manner that one can’t help but connect with the performance. Kearin is also helped by Paul Rogan, an actor who has a great gift in portraying grandiose narcissism. The two, contrasting in their quiet and boisterous natures, create quite the amusing pair.

The location of the play certainly set the tone for the night as well. There is something grand about spending an evening at the theater, and the Pasadena Playhouse does not disappoint in its aesthetic experience. The trickling fountain in the courtyard and open floor plan ushers one away from the buzz of Downtown Pasadena and into the tranquil magic of the stage, seemingly cleansing one’s cultural palate to ready them for a night of imaginative entertainment.

The play is housed in the Playhouse’s Carrie Hamilton Theatre, which is minimally decorated in such a way that the actors remain the most interesting thing onstage. With only two chairs, a couch and a rug, the center stage leaves a lot of room open for the cast to create the play’s world. The setting also allows audience members to use their imaginations to picture their ideal backdrop for the story. The small venue allows for a comfortable, intimate experience. The whole production feels raw and personal and leaves a lasting impression.

The agile humor of Jane Austen UnScripted is a form of entertainment that is incomparable to that of a movie. The play is genuinely involving: As an audience member one is not a stranger watching from a distance, but a member of the play itself.  That live-action feeling simply cannot be matched by many other forms of entertainment, and the show’s excellent execution takes improv theater to a new level.

Jane Austen UnScripted will be performed in the Carrie Hamilton Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse through April 1. Shows are scheduled on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. General admission is $25, and student and senior tickets are $20.

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