It seems a little presumptuous to write a review of something so amorphous as improvisational comedy. It was always an enigma to me, being so married to the written word. It was my worst subject in my high school theatre classes and I am in awe of people who can do it successfully, especially on a professional level. Woolly Mammoth Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz says it best when he describes the task of the Upright Citizens Brigade as a “conspiracy between performers and audience (that creates) a unique story every night.” And what a conspiracy it is!
There is something so personal about a show that is completely constructed before your eyes, you feel more a part of it.
We Know How You Die! is literally a once in a lifetime experience. The show that you see is the only time that that particular show will ever been seen. It follows a man named Steve, a self-proclaimed bio hacker who works as an engineer and plays the ukulele (ukelelist?) who has been through Naval Training and now has a fiancé whom he might be marrying in September barring any unforeseen karaoke live band problems. Steve is also a real person who prior to the show is interviewed onstage by the actors. From this interview they form a serious of scenes, that ultimately loosely piece together to form a plot, that culminates in the “death” of Steve. They often blew up his words in unusual ways, and parodied his life, more than tried to imitate it. For example, Steve and his fiancé meet at a swinger’s party, after Steve says they met at a party of their friend Serena’s who “just knew a bunch of random people”.
Shannon O’Neill is Artistic Director of the UCB Theatre in New York and has been seen in shows such as Broad City and Man Seeking Woman. In this show she plays Steve in the middle of memory from his high school band class, where he is unable to play; Sadie, Steve’s fiancé, and the Toys R Us salesperson who sells Steve his first ukulele. She is hilarious, and twists and turns the plot in unexpected directions.
Molly Thomas regularly performs at the UCB Theatre with her improve troupe Higgins and has been seen on Inside Amy Schumer and Late Night Snack. She plays Steve’s first crush, the second chair flautist, and the creature that Steve creates and ultimately leads to his demise. Her physical movements are hilarious.
Brandon Scott Jones was named one of Comedy Central’s “Comics to Watch” in 2015. He also co-wrote and stars in his own web-series Breakdowns. Among other delightful characters, Scott Jones plays Serena the mutual friend who organizes the swingers party, and the little brother of Steve who wants him to stay here and get to know him. (This comes from Steve’s comment that he was “absent brother” because of the large age difference.)
Connor Ratliff is the creator of The George Lucas Show at UCB Theatre, where real guests are interviewed by him while he pretends to be George Lucas. He plays both of Steve’s nemeses, Bryan, a trumpet player who dates Steve’s crush, and Ray, a guy who annoys Steve with never reading his writing before editing it, and a man Steve encounters while buying a ukulele, who is not getting a ukulele for musical purposes. The characters he creates are unexpected and original. His vocal work is incredibly nuanced on this production as well.
The improvisation extended not only to the three cast members, but also the technical crew, Scott Little, Aaron Waxman and Cody Whitfield. They asked what Steve’s favorite song was one moment and by the end of the show at Steve’s funeral a ukulele version of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” had been arranged.
After the story of an audience member’s death, the team does another piece of long form comedy. The one that we say was based on the adage “The right thing and the easy thing are seldom the same thing,” supplied by another audience member. This piece included a forum for Dads to share advice that they give to their children, and a man whose relationship suffers when he takes this adage to close to heart.
There is something so personal about a show that is completely constructed before your eyes, you feel more a part of it. When the jokes come, you laugh, and you feel like that particular laugh will never come again, and you gave that to the show. It’s an experience that could only happen in the Theatre.
Advisory: Adult Language and content.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 45 minutes.
It runs from July 12 to July 31 with performances Tuesday through Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 5pm and 8:30pm and Sunday at 7pm, with a special 2pm matinée performance on Sunday, July 31st. Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D St. NW. Tickets: $15-$75. Call 202-393-3939 or visit here.