Arts & Culture

Review: “Improv and Dragons” proves seriously funny at Tacoma Actors Rep

Josh Hird, left, and Christopher Harris of Fools Play.
Josh Hird, left, and Christopher Harris of Fools Play. Courtesy

I don’t usually write reviews of performances I only stayed halfway through. And I don’t usually attend theater when I have the flu. But I feel compelled to say one thing about Fools Play’s “Improv and Dragons,” now on at Tacoma Repertory: Don’t see it if you are sick, because you will laugh so much your cough drops will stop working.

Comedy improv is meant to be funny, of course, but what makes this version so enjoyable is how the humor operates on so many levels. “Improv and Dragons,” put on by Tacoma troupe Fools Play, is part of a fascinating three-tier Tacoma Rep theater experiment involving live Dungeons and Dragons gaming on Wednesday nights, Thursday improv based on the previous night’s game, and a Friday-Saturday bill of “She Kills Monsters,” a play about a young girl dealing with trauma through a gaming obsession. Right there you have some laughs, as none of the Fools Play actors were at the game — they’re all replaying the plot based on scanty notes handed over by someone else and are clearly not taking it seriously at all.

Then there’s the actual Dungeons and Dragons fantasy world, which lends itself to more comedy clichés than you can wave a wand at: snotty wizards, evil hunchbacks, snarky dragons. Fools Play tosses these characters around like hacky sacks, randomly assigning accents (Brooklyn mafia, pompous English) and attitudes, basking in the stereotypes before turning them upside down. Josh Hird made a gravelly voiced, psychopathic Pied Piper; Chris Harris became a giggling-falsetto Italian who’d invented the medieval version of pizza; Laramie Lundy was a mournful cleric with a flexible moral backbone.

But the funniest thing was when the audience got in on the act. Thursday, a voice suddenly spoke up from the middle row: It was Wednesday’s Dungeon Master, who was enjoying the show but had some quibbles with the accuracy of the plot. Watching Mike Harris juggle the stage action with this improvised element was delightful, and summed up the whole spirit of improv: Accuracy just can’t compare to the magic of imagination.

Sadly, I had to leave halfway through before I got sicker. Anything could have happened after that, funny or not — but then, that’s the beauty of improv, that rare art form where it’s just as funny to watch people fail as succeed.

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568, @rose_ponnekanti

Fool’s Play “Improv and Dragons”

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, March 24 and 31; Dungeons and Dragons game 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 23 and 30; “She Kills Monsters” 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays through April 3.

Where: Tacoma Actors Repertory Theatre, Armory building (basement), 715 S. 11th St., Tacoma.

Tickets: $10 (gets you $10 discount off a ticket to “She Kills Monsters” on Friday or Saturday).