by SOPHIE KERMAN
As the lights dim for Lorna Landvik‘s grand entrance at the Bryant Lake Bowl, it is clear that the woman has created a following. Whether through her eight novels or the four previous sold-out iterations of her one-woman improv show Party in the Rec Room, Lorna’s audience knows what to expect. For a comedy show, it’s usually great to have the audience on the side of the performer, laughing in anticipation and applauding at just the right time. As a newcomer to Lorna’s work, though, I started off the evening wondering if I had missed out on an inside joke: as the preparation of a homemade margarita garnered enthusiastic laughter and applause, I was a bit mystified. Who is this woman, and why are we watching her mix a cocktail?
I was prepared to cut Lorna some slack for attempting the extremely difficult feat of carrying off a solo improv show that is, by definition, different every night. Using audience suggestions, Lorna introduces her audience to a variety of characters who, she says at the top of the show, are all guests at her party. And when the audience shout-outs are as unmerciful as a “social worker-stripper” and the cities of Riga and Ougadougou, an actress deserves a little extra leeway for the sheer impossibility of the task.
Although Lorna gave a fair shot at using the cues she was given, I couldn’t help but think that we weren’t meant to be laughing at the characters, but at the middle-aged Midwestern woman playing them. Look at this! she seemed to be saying, I can put on a ridiculous wig and a crazy accent! Foreigners in particular were played with a wink, as in the case of the Rigan librarian who had no idea what country she was from. When these winks bordered on uncomfortable stereotypes (as they sometimes did), I began to wonder whether the audience’s suggestions were out of her depth, or whether Lorna’s sense of humor was just fundamentally different from mine.
Though there were funny moments (the bashful ribbon-cutting at the J. Edgar Hoover Rheumatology Clinic was a particular success), the structure felt repetitive and disconnected. It is too bad that the party isn’t more of a running thread throughout the show, because it could have provided cohesion to the scattered assortment of characters, who otherwise seemed to appear and disappear from thin air. Perhaps the performance would have built more momentum if each of the characters had a reason for attending the party or opinions about the other guests, or if the hostess had a sharper on-stage persona of her own.
As I say, this may be a play for those who know Lorna and her other work. As an outsider, though, I remained a wallflower at a party that never quite got off the ground.
Lorna Landvik’s PARTY IN THE REC ROOM, Solo Improv Show: Fridays & Saturdays, January 7, 13, 14, 20, 21, 27, 28, 2012. 7:00PM (6:00PM doors). Bryant Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis 612-825-8949. www.bryantlakebowl.com Tickets: $15 at www.Brownpapertickets.com