In sketch and improv—especially among younger performers—you’ll often see an inability (or unwillingness) to move beyond the easy laugh. It takes real chops (and risk-taking abandon) to build a character beyond a series of punchlines. It’s the difference between someone like Ricky Gervais—whose public persona is wittily complex, both dark and light—and joke man Howie Mandel, who can get off a decent one-liner, but who cares?
“Hero” (the one-act improvised play running Wednesdays at i.O.) looks this challenge in the eye and mostly comes out on top. With a cast of veteran actors—Brian Boland and Claudia Wallace are former Second City mainstagers; Jet Eveleth and Holly Laurent are members of The Reckoning, an improv team with serious talent—the actors are relaxed enough to carefully build their characters. (Patrick McKenna rounds out the ensemble.) This is a group (directed by Sandy Marshall, of Schadenfreude) that understands how inhabit a manufactured world with total confidence.
Hero mythology is the underlying theme of each show, although the one I caught was hazy on this point. I don’t think it matters. Half the cast offered up performances that were modestly funny but limited (and limiting to the story). This was a problem for Wallace, especially, who seemed trapped within the two-dimensions of her a vapid character.
The stronger work came from Boland, something of straight man when he was at Second City, who uses his tall good looks to subvert expectations. His character insights are specific and detailed, and boy does this guy know how to play burning dissatisfaction.
The other standout is Eveleth, with her hair clipped Mia Farrow-style, circa “Rosemary’s Baby”—more than anyone, Eveleth showed genuine dramatic instincts, charging face-first into a portrayal of quiet desperation that was funny and unflinchingly honest. Also, quick on the uptake; on the night I attended, she turned a momentary speech impediment into a Porky Pig sign-off—an inspired way to acknowledge her verbal flubbing and tweak it at the same time. (Nina Metz)
At i.O. Theater, 3541 North Clark, (773)880-0199. Wednesdays at 8pm through October 29. $10.