Thursday, August 02, 2007

Play Based on Choose Your Own Adventure Books Features My Cousin Ian Schempp

Theater Schmeater's latest round of shenanigans is a hoot and a holler, especially if you provide plenty of your own hoots and hollers, that is.

There's little serious or sacred in this comedic experiment, wherein the audience decides the course of a horrendously mismatched blind date. In this work of controlled chaos, story line takes a back seat to skewering.

Here's the slim premise: Punctilious Miranda (Amy Schumacher) meets the romantically rebounding Jeffrey (Andy Clawson) in a fancy restaurant. As she grills her prospective mate against her specific checklist, he struggles to assert his fragile manhood.

But this show really belongs to the waiter (Ian Schempp), who controls the turns of this hapless couple's destinies through the bell on his tray. His ring-a-ding is the signal for the battling singles to freeze, and the audience to make some choice on their behalf -- such as whether to order the white wine or the red. The actors then play the scene that corresponds to that choice.

Based on the book series "Choose Your Own Adventure," the waiter informs us that more than 60 story lines are possible. The play was written by Joseph Scrimshaw, and has run for three years in Minneapolis where it first appeared in a fringe festival.

Does the gimmick work? Well, it certainly makes for a boisterous evening, with a whiff of danger as the show continually seems to teeter on the edge of a tailspin. When a lone audience member is invited to randomize the performance further, the possibility of collapse becomes palpable.

Yet the forced zaniness, compounded by the weak talents of the lead actors, ultimately diminishes interest in the outcome that lies in our hands. Schumacher is an unformidable antagonist, while Clawson flails through Jeffrey's childish strategies.

Nevertheless, it is inspiring to watch Schempp take command. An actor experienced at improvisation, his wit is as dry as a stiff shot of gin, his manner deferential yet sly as he thinks on his feet. He diligently gets his audience involved in the show, assigning odd jobs along the way.

The sum is a bracing round of high spirits -- especially after the spirits liberally poured in the lobby.

Gianni Truzzi is a freelance writer who covers film, theater and the arts. He may be e-mailed at

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