Tim Orr, veteran improv artist of Three for All, appeared in and directed the We Don’t Have a Butler version of a Merry Murder Mystery, the closing performance on December 17, with heart in his wacky original and spontaneous comedy at BATS improv theater at Fort Mason. BATS follows this holiday show with the New Years Special next Saturday night, then starting 2012 with Spontaneous Broadway and a particular form of improv called The Harold.
The ensemble of Merry Murder Mystery took a few suggestions to start from the audience and then the cast was off for ninety minutes of improv with one intermission. My audience came up with a room in an English manor, a common household object that could be used as a murder weapon, the family business; and a title: The carriage house, since the cast had not heard that suggestion before; A snow globe murder weapon; Bootlegging for the family business; and for the title “We Don’t Have a Butler”.
The cast, which changed from night to night, included Bay Area native Lisa Rowland as the detective amid the eccentric and funny characters who seem to be related in odd and surprising ways as the story evolved. Ben Johnson, who has clowned with Cirque du Soleil’s Alegria, got good mileage out of a suspicious French Canadian accent for one of his characters. He played the twin of director Tim Orr’s quirky character who is an idiot savant of sorts at math for the family of bootleggers. Tim also played the family’s horse Chestnut who witnessed the murderer in the carriage house kill the lady of the manor with a snow globe to the forehead.
Three for All interview.
Dave Dennison played a couple of characters as well, starting out looking guilty as he plotted with his twisted sister Diane Rachel. As it turned out one of her family traumas was never being able to reach above her elbows so somebody tossed her something, making her burst into tears in the finale when Lisa is determining who did it.
Guest performer Regina Poretsky started off as the murder victim, returning during the detective work as Lisa uncovered details of the victim’s relationships, such as lusting after one of her adoptive sons who she found in a basket in an English pub as a baby. Regina did some funny physical comedy with the men of the manor such as a maid’s maneuver called polishing the silver with Ben’s character and others, providing some of the only adult humor. Then there was Diane Rachel’s practice of inviting strangers to her bed chamber to watch her sleep.
John Remak had some funny moments during the sequence where as the husband of the manor and the new widower, he re-enacts more romantic times when he traveled the world with the victim, going to France where Ben’s French accent first surfaces as he became a character in the memory. John also played an avid hunter, a virile outdoorsman and sportsman who hunted in Africa, so the cast posed as stuffed trophies in his study including Diane Rachel who played an ass.
I would give the Merry Murder Mystery a PG rating but for the most part this performance was Rated G family fun with no harsh language, you could take new friends or even a new date. There were no children present.
BATS provided great comic relief for the holidays and the spectacular setting at Fort Mason has to make this troupe world class. My windsurfing friend Aaron and I rode our bicycles to the theater on a glorious starry evening, riding the Embarcadero from the Ferry Building through Fisherman’s Wharf and past Ghirardelli Square, descending into Fort Mason. We bought burgers at In and Out then bought coffee at the little café in the theater, which also sells candy and adult beverages patrons may take into the theater. We rode back to BART along Columbus through North Beach.
Upcoming shows and classes
Many cast members from Merry Murder Mystery, whose closing performance was December 17, will be in the New Years Special. Some of the cast members are teaching the skills they used in the performances, such as Ben teaching physical comedy, exploring status and improv foundation. Exploring status is about trusting and letting yourself be changed by the other actor. Lisa Rowland and John Remak will also teach foundation, with Lisa teaching Introduction to Improv. Tim Orr will teach elements of long form (ELF). BATS offers many other classes, such as Spontaneous Broadway, like the production; or dialects.
Most performances cost $17 or $20 at the door. The New Years special costs $35 on line or $40 at the door.
Improv trio Three for All have two members in BATS, Tim Orr who directed the Merry Murder Mystery and Rafe Chase who performed recently in Theatresports at the 25th anniversary party open to the public. Here’s a review of 3ForAll from April Fools’ Day.
Here’s an interview about their long-time collaboration: Three for All interview.
Here are the details and more pictures and a video: 3 For All
BATS just celebrated it’s 25th anniversary in November.
For more, click here: BATS.