By 8:30pm on February 12, the Fox was completely at-capacity. The Sunday Service, the long-running weekly improv show, didn’t start until nine, but the dimly lit room was already buzzing with anticipation. At show time the six members of the troupe took to the stage; improviser Aaron Read introduced the players, and kicked off the first half.
The night started with a series of short-form improv scenes, inspired by audience suggestions. These rapid-fire scenarios jolted the crowd to attention with their absurdity. For an audience member at The Sunday Service, focus is key. If you find yourself distracted for a second, you might miss a crucial piece of information in a scene, like why Caitlin Howden was helping Ryan Beil, a murderous daisy that wished to become human. The Sunday Service definitely does not shy away from getting weird; instead, absurdity is weaved into every scene and consistently pumps out comedic scenarios and predicaments.
Despite the often silly, slapstick situations that cropped up in these moments, Taz VanRassel and Kevin Lee were showcasing impressive skills while starring in the game “Forward and Reverse.” In this game, a scene is improvised, and at the will of the moderator (Read), players perform the scene line-by-line in reverse — and then forward, and then reverse, again. The possibility of their failure was a thrilling prospect for the audience, and the room was left in excited amazement when the players completed the scene successfully.
The intermission was preceded by a short character performance. Sketch comedian Colin Cowan played a big-band crooner in his eighties, recently dumped by his partner of 65 years. Cowan amused the audience with his anti-Valentine’s day shtick, and offered a refreshing break from the fast-paced stylings of the rest of the evening.
As the intermission came to an end, the improv troupe introduced their long-form set. In the second half of the show, they weaved a continuous narrative consisting of multiple storylines, lasting about 30 minutes. Piano accompaniment provided by The Sunday Service’s musical director Emmett Hall, added extra feeling to the scenes, and added that much more depth to the stories.
Scenes took place anywhere — from an abandoned barn, to an elementary school principal’s office, to a bank in England, and to a music studio recording the hit song “Dorito Poppin’ Daddy” — as they constructed worlds by expanding on tangents, and developed them into full stories. At times I found myself lost in the abyss of crazy characters and absurd situations, but the players always made sure to ground their scenes in enough emotional sincerity for the audience to truly care about what happens to them.
What is most impressive about The Sunday Service, is how they make their performance look so effortless — the troupe clearly knows how to work together. These seasoned professionals, masters of their art form, are truly a pleasure to watch.