‘Whose Cabaret’ questions the nature of China! Socks!

“Did you see the latest Cabaret show?” “Is the Cabaret that little black box theater on Park Street?” “Is it true that they are putting on an improv comedy show?” “Isn’t this the first time the Cabaret is doing improv?” “Is it as weird, funny and outrageous as they promise it will be?” Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.

“Whose Cabaret is it, Anyway?” curated by Rebecca Phillips DRA ’09, is another experimental Yale Cabaret performance that successfully entertains the audience. The difference is that this time there is no script, no memorized lines, no stage directions and very few rules. The show is completely improvised by the actors onstage with cues from the audience. The result is an hour of unmitigated laughter.

Improv comedy is a novelty at the Cabaret, but this is hard to believe, given how perfectly suitable the Cabaret space is for the kind of dialogue required between the actors and the audience in an improv show. Nothing separates the stage from the audience, who are thus easily incorporated into the action. And the prompts for the action come from the audience as well; spectators are expected to shout out answers to queries for “a non-geographic location,” “a present you just received” or “a person with whom you have awkward conversations.”

There are several games that give the show a basic structure within which the actors are free to be as creative as possible. One game requires the actors to act the same scene in different ways — first in the film noir style, then as a Nickelodeon program and finally as a Marx brothers show, for example.

For another game, the actors have a conversation entirely made of questions, while another requires one actor to go out of the room while the audience supplies information about a person he supposedly murdered. The other actors then try to help him guess the true story. “I left my stylus, in Cypress, miles away” is a clue for Miley Cyrus.

These games require the actors to assume several different personae in quick succession. The cast, which is a six-person mix of undergraduates and Yale School of Drama students, is fairly successful in managing this challenge. Some have great talent for comic acting: Luke Brown DRA ’09 is the hilarious personification of what would happen if Mr. Bean decided to do improv. Unfortunately the actors often can’t resist laughing at each others’ jokes.

It is great to see that they enjoy what they are doing, but this is a drawback that reduces the comic effect on the audience.

Most of the comedic element in “Whose Cabaret is it, Anyway?” is derived from ridiculous situations, comic characters and physicality, rather than from clever one-liners. Physicality is the forte of the actors; they fill the space with bold movements and are not hesitant — or embarrassed — to use their bodies creatively.

Improv comedy might be a first at the Cabaret, but the undergraduate scene has no shortcomings in this respect. In fact, Brandon Berger ’10 and O’Hagan Blades ’10, the two undergraduates in “Whose Cabaret is it, Anyway?” are both members of The Viola Question.

Whether improv at the Cabaret is any different or better is a question potential audiences might want to ask. The answer is that “Whose Cabaret is it, Anyway?” is not strikingly superior to any of the undergraduate improv shows, but if you need a good laugh — and who doesn’t these days? — the Cabaret is the right place to go this weekend.

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