“You Don’t Know the Half of it,” created and produced by Cecile Monteyne, continued its seasonal run at a packed Cafe Istanbul on Sunday (Oct. 18) night, and I finally got to see what all the fuss was about. As baffling as it is hilarious, “Half of It” revels in the confusion and chaos of improv comedy made even more confusing by the structure.
As Monteyne, fresh off her critically praised turn in The NOLA Project‘s “Marie Antoinette” explained to the audience, performers are divided into duets with writers providing one of them a makeshift script and the other one forced to play off the written lines with moments of their own. (The stories themselves are divided into two parts, with a different duet assigned to the second “act.”) Too often, gratefully, those improvised moments steer a little too far from the apparent story, and it can take a few leaps for the clued-out performer to get back to the story.
So at any given moment one performer is trying to keep up while the other (hopefully) is trying to help them stay on target. It’s almost impossible not to break character in these moments, and when the do the crowd eats it up.
The writers for this particular evening were Laney Bedford, Breanna Biets, Tucker Keatley and Randy Walker. The actors: Jonathan Greene, Lyndsay Kimball, Eli Timm and Corinne Williams. The improvisers: Valerie Boucvalt, Christopher Kaminstein, Emily Slazer and Mike Yoder. The You Don’t Know house band featured Sam Craft, Alexis Marceneaux, Marc Paradis and Amanda Wuerstlin serving up song parodies tied to each sketch.
If “You Don’t Know the Half of It” does nothing else, it proves just how complicated and difficult improv comedy can be. For those raised on the craziness of TV’s “Whose Line Is it Anyway?”, it’s easy to take it for granted. But watching these performers work both with and against the script provides a new-found appreciation for the craft. That’s why Emily Slazer in particular was such a joy to watch, happily tossing out (and coming back to) such loony culture references as shopping at Sam’s Club to keep up with her partner (Corinne Williams). Christopher Kaminstein was another highlight, working a kind of stoner charm in one sketch and contorting an almost rubbery face in another for laughs. (At times it felt like his partner was one trying to keep up.)
“You Don’t Know the Half of It” will celebrate its fourth anniversary Jan. 17, 2016, at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré. Learn more about the show by following them on Twitter (@thehalfofit) and at Facebook.com/thehalfofit.