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A CurtainUp Review

Y2K, You're OK
By Barbara K. Mehlman

If you want to take the kids to the theatre over the holidays, but don't want something that'll break the bank, the improvisational company, Chicago City Limits, is presenting Y2K, You're OK, until the end of the year. It's a unique show that'll have everyone laughing and costs only $20 a person.

Improvisation, by its very nature, is hit or miss, and if you're willing to accept the misses, you're usually rewarded with unexpected flashes of brilliance and inspired gems that seem to come out of nowhere. While most comedians rehearse their stories over and over till they have them just right, actors who attempt improv are clearly on a trapeze without a net since improv precludes any kind of rehearsal. It's dangerous stuff, and you'll find yourself rooting for the good-natured performers of CCL as they take on the challenges thrown at them by the audience, with humor and courage, finding ways to connect and create performances out of the most disparate and quirky topics.

Y2K is composed of both rehearsed set pieces and improvisation. Though the set pieces are not especially clever, and smack more of college frat night antics than polished skits, they do allow the troupe to do some computer bits that give relevance to the title (which otherwise has nothing to do with the show). One skit, however, that did work, had two men writing to their respective girlfriends, Penelope and Penny, in 1899 and 1999, one with a quill pen and parchment, using flowery language, the other on a laptop, using email lingo. The effect of the simultaneously written billet-doux was startling, even poignant.

The improvs were clearly more hit than miss. Different for every show, the performance I saw started with a musical rap on body piercing, a topic supplied by the audience. The cast's delight in doing this was obvious, and the lyrics were so clever I had the feeling this topic must have been suggested before. True or not, it was fun. Other topics included Ipanema, Shakespeare, Woody Allen, a mole, Twister, Kabuki, 50s sitcom, break-dancing, Fosse, and ditziness. A game of Jeopardy followed this with some interesting categories -- Kinky Stuff, Hairy Humans and Pregnant Animals.

Skilled at making up on-the-spot musicals, the troupe took an audience member's traumatic and nutty story and created an operetta about a man who was smitten with a girl but was shy and unsure of his manliness. In the end he managed to prove his virility to her by getting rid of a bat that was hanging from her bedroom light fixture.

The most hilarious improvisational set of the evening involved acting out a quote obviously suggested by someone with a sadistic sense of humor: "There is a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will," Hamlet, Act V. Admittedly the cast asked for this. No easy stuff they said (such as "too many cooks spoil the broth" or "a stitch in time saves nine"). Well, they got what they asked for, and put on an inspired performance.

Victor Varnado, Carl Kissen, Joe DeGise II and Denny Siegel - the only female of the bunch - are a talented bunch with breath-taking energy. Varnado, who looks like a cross between Daddy Warbucks and Hannibal Lecter, is the most comic-looking. Siegel is quick, hip, and sharp with a real smart-aleck mouth; Kissen, who reminds me of Judd Hirsch, is part imitator, part straight man, and approaches everything with an evil gleam in his eye; and DeGise, who guessed the Hamlet quote, is an improvisational genius and a joy to watch.

Pianist Frank Spitznagel manages to select appropriate music for every skit. It adds up to a Y2K that's OK!

Directed, written by and starring: Victor Varnado, Carl Kissen, Joe DeGise and Denny Siegel
Piano: Frank Spitznagel on piano
Chicago City Limits, 1105 First Avenue at 61st St., 212-888-LAFF
Running time: 2 hours with one intermission
Opened 9/15/99 with a probably 12/31/99 closing date.
Reviewed by Barbara K. Mehlman based on November 19, 1999

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