Hip Shot: DECADES
Friday, July 18 at 11 p.m.
Sunday, July 20 at 6:45 p.m.
Thursday, July 24 at 6:00 p.m.
Sunday, July 27 at 2:15 p.m.
They Say: “DECADES is an improvised comedy that explores the 1950s through the 1980s. Based upon two simple audience suggestions, the cast evolves through the most colorful decades in recent history, with the fashion, music and pop culture of the times.”
Alex’s Take: When you think of improv, the typical image is of 5-10 people on a stage, dressed in black and making everything up on the spot. 4 and 9 Productions’ DECADES is more ambitious than that. The cast takes the stage dressed in full costumes, ranging from leather jackets and do-wop skirts, to bell bottom pants and tie-dye shirts, to full-on hair metal getup. Ambient noise, photo slideshows, and music complement the action. Yes, this is improv with all the trimmings. Even if the show doesn’t quite meet its ambitions, it still gets points for style.
A main theme of the show is identity, and the cast explores the cycles of conformity and need for expression throughout the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. Women’s rights, drugs, music, and the split between corporate and youth culture recur in every era, and the usage of these themes alternates between heavy-handed and perfectly reflective. It’s fascinating to see how culture changes over time- a hippie in the 70s wants to sell square cookies to plant trees, which blows the minds of a couple of disco-goers. Previously, in the 60s, everything square was frowned upon. Some scenes, like a girl in the 50s wanting to sell cosmetics while her boyfriend wants her to stay at home, don’t play as subtly; a character says at one point “Well, this just seems to be the theme for the evening.”
It’s odd, then, that the show has a bit of identity crisis itself. Though it’s billed as a comedy, it’s not laugh-out-loud funny, and several scenes at the performance I saw didn't know when to end. The audience was polled for suggestions of “a family friendly topic of conversation” and “a job that employs an equal number of men and women,” though it’s unclear how the suggestions were used in the show.
However, DECADES is a fascinating exploration of American history, examining what made each era what it is. This was only their first show, and I’m sure a game cast will continue to evolve and change the show throughout the run, much like history itself.
See It If: You can’t afford a time machine and want to take a trip down memory lane.
Skip It If: The thought of a little improv chaos turns you off.
DECADES photo © 2014 Darian Glover. Used with permission.