Introducing Know Theatre’s holiday offering, The Naughty List, artistic director Eric Vosmeier reminded those in attendance that the company had done a seasonal show in the courtyard at Arnold’s Bar & Grill a few years back. Placing his tongue firmly in his cheek, he fiercely announced, “And now we’ve taken it back.” Then he sheepishly added that actually Cincinnati Shakespeare gave it up (moving Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and them some) to their mainstage on Race Street later this month).
Regardless of the circumstances, it’s good to have Know’s offbeat perspective available as a choice for holiday entertainment in the form of the energetic players of OTR Improv, one of the Jackson Street Market members that Know supports — Sean Mette, Dave Powell, Alison Rampa, Kat Smith and Chris Wesselman. They’re performing on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings at 8 p.m. through Dec. 30.
It’s improv, of course, so the show I saw is not what you’ll see if you decide to go. But they do have a pattern for the evening, which opens with a few exercises: The first, called “Objection,” has two opposing views argued and quickly switched between (using an audience suggestion, it was a debate between white and colored Christmas tree lights). Next a “Holiday Advice Panel” fields questions including what kind of gifts to get for the in-laws. That’s followed by “185,” a set up for jokes created on the fly: “185 (fill in the blank) walk into a bar. The bartender says …” You get the picture.
The first half of the evening winds up with a “remake” of a well-known holiday tale, chosen by the audience and retold by an audience member. The five performers reenact what they’ve heard, embroidering and enlivening the narrative. The evening I was there it was a twisted take on Rudolph, through the filter of the 1964 stop-motion TV special. (It felt about 10 minutes too long, however. Even a good joke needs to know when enough is enough.)
A brief intermission (and a long line at Arnold’s one-hole men’s room, by the way), we had another improv exercise, “Genres,” with Mette and Wesselman acting out a story in various styles, doing rapid switches between “cop-buddy show,” “film noir” and a musical. To wrap the evening up, they invited an audience member to share the story of a gift they yearned for but never received. For my visit, “Best Christmas Never” was a tale of wanting a baby brother, played out most inventively.
I wanted the evening to be a tad more hilarious, but it takes a lot of energy and polish to succeed with improv, and this quintet has the quick wit to make it work often enough that the well-lubricated audience at Arnold’s guffawed and joined into the fun through the entire two hours. The courtyard is all gussied up with Christmas lights, and an immense inflated penguin (looming like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man) prevails from the corner of the porch roof. The Naughty List is a fine, adult diversion for the holidays.
Know Theatre of Cincinnati and OTR Improve present THE NAUGHTY LIST Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings at 8 p.m. through Dec. 30 at Arnold's Bar & Grill downtown. Tickets: $15 (in advance via knowtheatre.com); $18 at the door.