Richmond's oldest comedy troupe hits its prime with "Buoys of Summer" at the Barksdale Theatre. 

Impressive Improv

The Take 5 Comedy Troupe just keeps getting better. For years, this ragtag group of improv comedians was like a nomadic tribe, showing up from time to time on various stages around town. But last year, they scored a regular Thursday-night gig at Ashland Coffee and Tea and then wrangled a recurring Tuesday night slot on the Barksdale's lobby stage. The result of having a consistent venue has been a more confident, cohesive and dependably hilarious show. In the midst of Take 5's latest iteration, "Buoys of Summer," I found tears of laughter in my eyes several times. My hugely pregnant wife who came along with me nearly busted a gut during a couple of the skits and I mean that in the most literal of ways.

Improv comedy is always a mixed bag and results can range from inane to inspired. But Take 5's talented troupe has tightened up that range so that even the worst sketches prompt at least a few hearty chuckles. For most of their two-hour show, the seven-member ensemble engages in a series of games where they take suggestions tossed out from the audience and try to turn them into comedy on the spot. The games are engineered for maximum silliness. "VCR" allows a moderator to fast-forward and rewind the action, forcing the actors into spasms of hyperactivity. "The Water Game" requires that each player plunge his or her head into a fish tank, trusting that someone will find a logical way within the skit to rescue them from a watery asphyxiation.

While Take 5 isn't above being silly, its members strive for the sublime. In last Tuesday's show, Jesse Wiley combined the topical with the transcendent in his depiction of the world's worst psychic who is forced to ask Regis for a lifeline. Jamie Allen's full-body rendition of the Tasmanian Devil was so convincing that I thought I'd stepped into "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" And, in one divinely absurd sketch, Jeff "Hootie" Meisner played a nurse trying to convince a surgeon that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. This is stuff most sitcom writers wouldn't be able to devise in a month of deep thought, let alone conjure up on the spot.

Take 5 is made up of a core group of zanies (founders Jeff Clevenger and Jennifer Frank, Allen and Meisner) that has been augmented with some accomplished actors with impressive credits under their belts. Jason Sawyer has been a highlight of the British farces put on by Swift Creek Mill Theater, including the current show, "See How They Run." Jerold Solomon is recognizable from his work in commercials, not to mention his appearances in productions by the Encore! Theater Company and at Theatre IV's Theatre Gym. These two actors take the lead in the last sketch, a reworking of the "Grease" hit, "Summer Nights," as sung by chickens, and one of the few pre-rehearsed parts of the show. Their harmonized finale adds the final bit of polish to a truly lustrous and superbly rambunctious evening.


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