From a hectic vacation involving Poseidon, to a murderous preschool reunion, improv group Needs Improvment gave their audience an evening full of dark humor and inventive storytelling.
The virtual Needs Improvment show commenced with an all too familiar Zoom scene on Friday, Jan. 8 as performers joined the call yawning, stretching and wearing their pajamas, pretending to be late to the show.
Needs Improvment is structured with many different spontaneous activities performed by class members and overseen by drama teacher Mark VanDerzee.
VanDerzee turned to the audience for a volunteer to explain where they would like to be right now if they could be anywhere. A few people raised their virtual hands, and Performing Arts Curriculum Coordinator Kenny Kozol was selected. Kozol said that he would rather be on a warm, quiet beach in Latin America.
Senior Maya Van Overbeeke-Costello took on the role of Kozol in acting out his imagined dream sequence, demonstrating a vast range of emotions. She swiftly transitioned from being at ease to a relatable state of anxiety as the rest of the cast interrupted her time alone on the beach.
The scene took a darker turn as senior Eric Traub projected his determination to torment Kozol. Traub portrayed a student who was left behind by Kozol to drown in the water by the beach. The scene was enhanced by his convincing gurgling noises as he sunk into the ocean.
The dream ended when Poseidon, played by junior Will Palmucci, mockingly threatened Costello to clean his son’s clarinet until “it shone like gold” – or he would drown him. Fortunately, Costello did a good job with the clarinet, but rather unfortunately Poseidin’s son was “more of a drum player.” This quick quip by Palmucci was both comedic and further developed his character as the scene finished.
In another cynical yet hilarious activity called “Doggy Daycare,” senior Niovi Rahme and juniors Irmuun Boldbaatar and Sammy Yee acted out the parts of two dog owners and a celebrity named Lord Regan, respectively.
Rahme and Boldbaatar both skillfully dropped pieces of information about Lord Regan throughout their conversation about the doggy daycare. Yee’s use of an external prop–a yellow stuffed animal–was very helpful for the audience to be able to vividly visualize the dogs, without there actually being any real ones there.
Yee then asked Boldbaatar if she could have his dog, and he resentfully said yes. Yee’s somewhat horrendous demand for another character’s dog made the scene both intriguing and built upon the show’s overall theme of darkness and unforeseeable actions by its performers.
The most engaging of the scenes was called Event Round, which the cast had never tried before. In this activity, performers were instructed to enact a climatic moment and then go back in time to explain what happened leading up to the scene. A member from the audience suggested a scenario where someone finishes a meal with a friend only to realize they have no money with them.
The scene began with junior Grace Thompson and Traub’s characters on a date that was going well, until Thompson realized she forgot her wallet.
Another cast member interrupted with a silly “woosh” sound and the audience was transported back in time, where it is revealed that Thompson was fired from her job. When her voice broke as she questioned out loud how she would feed her children, the audience felt her pain.
Thompson was then introduced to online dating by her children. Thompson’s ability to engage with her cast members further was on full display as she gave them names that rhymed with one another.
The view then shifted to Traub, who talked with his son about his own scheme to save money: he explained that he offers to pay for dinner, but always has his date pay. Traub expressed his mischievousness as he grinned at the audience. His character’s repulsive words contrasted with his previously kind demeanor towards Thomspon, and also connected with the show’s theme of unexpected evil.
The scene then transitioned back to Traub and Thompson, whose characters were on a date. Rather unfortunately for them both, they each reached for their pockets and realized at the same moment that neither could pay for dinner. By giving away pieces of the puzzle before revealing the final outcome, the audience was able to pay more attention to the carefully developed ending and “aha” moment.
With scenes that projected both humor and darkness, Needs Improvment gave its audience a powerful demonstration of talented performers who worked hard to provide an entertaining show.