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January 10, 2012

True story or tall tale? Either way, it fails

I walked into the tiny arena of the Gorilla Tango Theater with high hopes and saw a solitary man standing behind the counter, exchanging a friendly “f*** you” with the patron standing in front of him. Despite this, I was excited. Not even the poor customer service perturbed me as I paid $10 for my ticket and received a small ballot. My curiosity grew as five of the performers sat on stage and a sixth began to speak. Unfortunately the introduction to “True Story,” an improv comedy event, was destined to be the same as the rest of the performance: halting and bland.

The six on stage were each going to deliver a monologue, explained the speaker, and the audience would decide which one was true. In an effort to enliven and engage the audience, the speaker said each performer would be brought up in random order, depending on what numbers the audience called out. Though I had been told this would be improv comedy, the six stories I heard were read off of white printed pages clutched tightly in each performer’s hand, peppered with “uh’s” and pauses.

The night started with the tale of a precocious ninth-grader who got a girl to kiss him by telling her he’d split the profits of a bet he’d made to kiss her. It was a riveting piece of jealousy and anger, and there was an opportunity for the smug, self-proclaimed playboy, the lover of hot Canadian women, to get his comeuppance. But the writer performed the piece flatly, with only flashes of humor.

A heart-wrenching tale of a boy whose mother began a school-wide campaign to block TV in the homes of Boy-Meets-World-addicted elementary school children came next. The boy slowly spiraled into depression as he dealt with the subsequent withdrawal symptoms. That was followed by a story about a man who had a penchant for Asian women, but in all his experience with prostitutes, had never actually slept with one. An enigmatic pimp friend named ‘the Doctor’ sent him to a Thai massage parlor. In excruciating detail, the narrator told us the minute events leading up to his “happy ending” therein. This was followed by an irreverent story of a first date, to my ears only humorous because of its insensitivity. The story ended harshly when the narrator, an anorexic male, refused a kiss and brusquely told his poor date that girl saliva was loaded with calories. Not to mention the story of the girl who had love affairs with Denny’s and other fast food restaurants, including an “experimental lesbian” stage with Wendy’s, and was currently experiencing full satisfaction with Five Guys, or the tale of the fascinating red squirrels that did windmills when rocks were thrown on them at a mundane summer retreat. Throughout the six stories, my expectations sunk lower and lower until they pooled in the soles of my shoes.

These were not actors. The six valiant performers were writers, and all they did was read their short stories to us. The audience chuckled sporadically but wasn’t anymore engaged than if they had read the stories on some upstart, indie Internet magazine. What, then, was the purpose of drawing us here, if it was only to hear these stories read aloud? This was not meant to be a reading, and the medium of acting was lost. Although I applaud the courage it took for the writers to put themselves out there, I didn’t find any of the stories by these would-be actors particularly well done, either. Indeed, most of the humor seemed forced, or relied on innuendos.

If there was any redeeming quality in the ‘True Story’ show, it was that each tale was banal enough to possibly be true. Maybe. There were no glaring, extravagant fictions, but neither did any monologue give itself away as obviously true.

At least the show was balanced; no story was too long. And at least the audience did chuckle. Sometimes.

So which story was true? Much to my horror, it was the story of the Thai prostitute. I had hoped that the so-called “happy ending” at which the performer had lewdly smirked was completely false. Only one person in the sparse audience guessed correctly—a friend of mine who looked at the certificate to a Costa Rican restaurant that was his prize and said that at least the ten dollars he’d put down hadn’t been completely wasted. I, however, had no such luck, and it was with empty hands that I walked out of the theater, with the disappointed feeling of an evening

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