Sunday, December 8, 2019

"Family Dinner" and "The Mess" at HUGE Improv Theater

Family Dinner is my favorite show at HUGE Improv Theater in Uptown. It comes around this time every year, with shows on Fridays and Saturdays all through November and December, most of which sell out. Now in their eighth year at HUGE, it's basically the Guthrie's A Christmas Carol (as creator Molly Ritchie said). I attended with my Twin Cities Theater Blogger friends old (Minnesota Theater Love, Twin Cities Stages, Bite-Sized Beet) and new (The Stages of MN, The Global Dig, and Millennial in the Mezzanine), and a good time was had by all. HUGE is a great option for a fun outing this time of year, or any time of year. Buy tickets for one show only, or save on a two- or three-show pass. And you will want to get your Family Dinner tickets in advance - they will sell out.

The reason Family Dinner is so successful, and the reason I and so many people go back to see it every year, is that everyone can relate to that sort of fun but really quite awkward holiday* dinner with family and friends you may not see much at other times of the year. It feels real, and the talented improv performers (Janay Henry, Katy Kessler, Laura Berger, Maureen Lyon Tubbs, Rita Boersma, Sam Landman, and Vann Daley, chosen from a rotating pool of talent) really sell the relationships and characters that they make up on the spot. To make it a little more interesting/challenging, each of seven performers is given a secret, suggested by the audience, that they can choose to use in whatever way they wish, or not at all. Not all of the secrets (which included having an affair, competing on a reality show, and adopting a lot of cats) came out when I saw the show, but it adds a layer of fun and mystery if we know the secret and the other cast members don't. Act I (yes, this is long-form imrov with two acts) focuses on arrivals at the home of the dinner host(s) and establishing relationships - in this case a married couple hosting their daughter, siblings, in-laws, and dear old mom. The fun part is in Act II, when they sit down to a long dinner table and actually eat real food - turkey, mashed potatoes, pie, and more! That's usually when things get real, and real awkward. And hence real funny.

If you're going to Family Dinner at 8, you might as well stay for the next show (or two) and continue the fun. Which is just what my friends and I did (but just the 930 show, 1030 is way past my bedtime). The Mess is an improv troupe consisting of Rita Boersma, Mike Fotis, Eric Knobel, Molly Ritchie, James Rone, and Jake Scott, performing every Saturday night at HUGE. Molly Ritchie, creator of Family Dinner and member of The Mess, said that while the former is more grounded in reality, The Mess dabbles in the absurd. And boy did they, with a duck king, sex spoons, a moose duke, children working in a candy factory, and (perhaps my favorite) a sloshed soap opera star. I've seen this Mess a couple of times now, and what impresses me about them is how well they work together as a team. They seamlessly flow from one absurd situation to the next, catching each other's curve balls with ease, building on each other's stories and characters, as if they knew what was coming. But still sometimes cracking each other up with surprise.

HUGE has shows every night except for Tuesday. You can find the full schedule on their website, as well as information about classes and jams. And note that they do have a parking lot just south of the theater (as well as one across the alley); you can even park there while you go to a pre-show dinner at one of the many establishments in the Lyn-Lake neighborhood. Finally, if you're interested in supporting HUGE in their efforts to purchase a new space to move into, you can find that info here.

*Click here to read about all of the holiday shows I've seen this year.