One Lump, or Two?
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 12, 2007
Death League Tea Party is an improv troupe that specializes in long-form, which means that, from a single audience suggestion (e.g., a made-up play title), they create on the spot a one-act play. In their FRIGID show One Lump or Two?, they perform two spontaneous pieces in the space of an hour. The shows will obviously be different every night. If the one I saw is at all representative, then you can expect to have a good deal of fun.
The warm-up that DLTP begins each play with—which I'm assuming is one of their trademarks—is quite brilliant. After the audience suggestion is received (for example, at the performance I attended, "When Grandma Died in Canada"), the lights go out on stage and the actors move to the sidelines. In the dark, we hear them speak as members of the "audience" for the play that's about to unfold, commenting both pointedly and irrelevantly about what's to come. For example, they describe what they're "seeing" on the stage or discuss what they're "reading" in the "program." It's a very effective and funny way to get things started, to orient us and each other to what's in their heads.
The improvised plays themselves are somewhat more scattershot. The first one I saw, about a hobo named Dale who is visited at a bed-and-breakfast by a very odd doctor, had lots of zany moments, but kept needing to be kick-started by a wacky neighbor lady named Mrs. Ford (played by Alden Ford), who turned out to be a truly inspired creation. Kristy Webb played a strange nymphomaniac named Diane who felt like something dropped out of a late Tennessee Williams play; she was pretty funny, too.
The second piece, the one about the dead grandmother, held together much better; all five actors (the other three at the performance reviewed were Joe Spellman, Marcos Sanchez, and Steven Slate) seemed more simpatico here, as they spun a tale of rivalry between two families, culminating in elaborate funerals staged by the likes of Steven Spielberg to music by John Williams. This piece reached a crescendo of anarchic silliness that yielded sustained laughter for a good, long time. And Ford found a terrific finish that I did not see coming.
Improv is great to watch: it's exciting to see the wheels turning as the actors riff off one another and the audience's energy. Death League Tea Party offers a good sampling of the form. I will be watching for more of their shows in the future.