By Marissa Giambelluca
The word of the night was “donkey,” and the sketch began with a disgruntled Dunkin’ Donuts worker attempting to make a man and his mule leave the premises. There was a lot of yelling and hee-hawing but the movements were left to my imagination because I was sitting in a pitch-black theater.
ImprovBoston’s show “Blackout” is exactly as it sounds: sketch comedy done in the dark to heighten the audience’s senses and imagination. The night started off with an opening improv act (done with lights on) to warm up the crowd. The sketch involved a couple of performers on stage, while the others in the wings waited to switch places with a performer by tapping them on the shoulder when they were ready to jump in. As it is with most comedy acts, some performers were funnier than others, but luckily the more seasoned comedians knew to tap out the flailing ones almost immediately. Despite a few awkward pauses, I laughed quite a bit and felt excited for the main show.
Once the lights faded, I closed my eyes so I could focus on the words and create a scene in my head (plus, I knew if I kept my eyes open, they would adjust to the darkness and I would be distracted by the comedians’ silhouettes). It was great for about five minutes, but then I couldn’t help but hear the audience laughing and clapping for a show going on in the next room. Even though I was sitting in the front row, approximately two feet from the stage, every other word was drowned out by cackling and muffled dialogue from beyond the wall. I tried my best to ignore it until the other theater cleared out.
The beginning of “Blackout” was entertaining. Each actor quickly got into the groove of things, bouncing from one sketch to another with just a similar word linking them. A sketch with a donkey in a Dunkin’ Donuts quickly morphed into a bunch of kids telling scary stories around a campfire, which transformed into two teenagers playing Seven Minutes in Heaven in a closet at a party (which spawned the best line of the night: “There’s twelve guys and one girl at this party—hurry up in there!”), which led into a guy stuck in an elevator on the way to an interview. Having my eyes closed really worked for those sketches. The stories came alive with the performers’ dialogue and I was able to really focus on their inflections. I didn’t need to see the kids’ knees shaking in order to know they were terrified by the ghost story—I could hear the stuttering. I didn’t need to see the shrug of the guy’s shoulder as the elevator skipped his floor—I could hear his exasperated sigh. The performers were hilarious, and picturing them acting it out in my head made it even funnier.
The first half was intriguing, but my biggest problem with the show came during the last half. Since the performers called out for one inspiration word to use for the entire 45-minute show, eventually things started to feel forced. With my eyes closed, there was no action to keep my attention and I could tell that the performers were running out of material. After a while, they were grasping at straws, yelling out one-liners and talking over each other in hopes of a few laughs. I think if they called out for new words, therefore giving themselves fresh material to work with, this show would have kept me entertained for the whole act. The show ended when house music started playing (to signify it was time to wrap it up), but instead of finishing his joke, the performer just stopped speaking mid-sentence.
Overall, comedy in the dark did not turn out to be as kitschy as I thought it would be. Being used to my eyes constantly glued to a phone, computer screen or a television, this show was a nice reprieve that forced me to use my other senses (and even laugh a little).
ImprovBoston is located at 40 Prospect Street in Cambridge, MA 02139. To see a full list of upcoming shows, check them out online at improvboston.com.