One of the great advantages of being an improviser in Chicago is the ready availability of amazing, low-cost improv shows on a regular basis. In this intense, Galapagos-like condition the improvisation has evolved to create fascinating diversity and specialization. At the apex of this evolution is the TJ & Dave show.
Last week (3/12/14), I went to see the show. As they took the stage I was reminded of the intro from the Blues Brothers album, Briefcase Full of Blues:
“You know so much of the music we hear today is pre-programmed electronic disco, we never get a chance to hear master blues men practicing their craft anymore. By the year 2006, the music known as the blues will exist only in the classical records department of your local library. So tonight, ladies and gentlemen, while we still can, let us welcome, from Rock Island Illinois, the blues band of Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues, the Blues Brothers!”
Here are two master improvisers practicing their craft… while we still can, let us welcome… TJ & Dave.
Being the good little improv nerd that I am, I took some notes as thoughts and inspiration struck me during their amazing show on that Wednesday.
The first scene: just two roommates. TJ is coming home from a date while Dave has been sitting home drinking gin. A wonderful conversation ensues and they eventually realize that a) they’re hungry, b) they have no food. So they decide to go to 7/11.
DAVE: So, you wanna go to 7/11?
TJ: Yeah, what’s keeping us here?
That last line I took as a meta-commentary on improv scenes… what IS keeping us here? Too often we are just stuck in whatever space we started in, but that’s not how real life works. Let’s get up and walk and go to other places and see, literally, where that takes us.
Interlude: they run into their neighbor who lives across the hall. Dave plays this neighbor. There’s a brief “three person” scene.
Walking to 7/11: nothing happens per se, but the two roommates continue their conversation in a lovely, lively natural manner.
In 7/11: Dave plays the clerk, who knows the roommates. Dave goes back and forth between characters until near the end, when TJ becomes the clerk so Dave can converse with him. At one point, Dave asks if there is more spice cakes in the back and TJ replies sarcastically that only the gold-card members get the good stuff they keep in the back.
They walk back to the apartment. No jump-cut, but they walk back to the apartment building, go through the same hallway, and enter the apartment.. something so simple, so natural, yet it felt so unique and fun at the same time. They enter the apartment. And then…
Back in Time: we see the woman mentioned from the very beginning (TJ’s date) arrive home to her roommate and we have a scene in their apartment which is designed differently (though Dave’s character is seated at a table as well.) We don’t get the typical “this is the woman’s point of view” scene… that would leave the characters as simply reflections of their male counterpoints and the scene just a reaction shot… instead we get two fully-fleshed out characters with their own (individual and collective) problems and opinions. The women are also out of food.
Back to the Future: we are now inside the neighbors apartment! What a surprise. This character of the neighbor (called a “weirdo” by the original Dave character) is indeed a bit of a strange bird. He calls to his wife in the next room and the two get into a fight. This, about 45 minutes into the show is the first “conflict” scene.. the first argument scene and it’s a high-energy, loud argument that comes quickly and ends just as quick.
Suddenly, back to the 7/11: the two women are shopping. TJ asks if there are any more spice cakes and Dave asks if she’s a gold card member.
And that was it. End of show.
No stunning revelations, no big conflicts, no big decisions, just humans being human and acting like regular people. It was graceful, elegant and hilarious.
55 minutes, 7 characters, 6 scenes, 2 improvisers.
I didn’t write down the characters names because I was enjoying the show entirely too much. It’s a great show and I love seeing it in its natural habitat; the weird, basement-esque cabaret of the iO theater. It won’t be there for much longer… while we still can, let us welcome, the improv show of TJ & Dave.