The Improvisational Repertory Theatre Ensemble presents The Marvelous Mrs. Mcluskey
Review by Jen Bush-12/2/21
I need some suggestions from the audience for what to write this article about. I hear edamame. I like edamame, it’s delicious and pretty healthy but that’s a sentence or two at best. I heard Tom Hiddleston. The last thing I want to do with Tom Hiddleston is write about him. I have other plans which might involve a restraining order for me. I just heard someone say the IRTE Improv Troupe. Yes, and…that’s a great idea!
I’ve seen a lot of improv shows over the years, including one in Scotland. Two of my friends are improv players. I’ve never seen an improv show as unique or in depth as the one presented by IRTE. The stage was fully furnished and there was a plethora of props. This was a one-and-a-half-hour show based around the life of one Mrs. Mcluskey. Mrs. Mcluskey is a sad pathetic frumpy housewife with a seriously dysfunctional family. What really added to the humor was that Mrs. Mcluskey was played by a man in drag wearing an ill-fitting wig. In fact, everyone had ill-fitting wigs which again added to the humor. Mrs. Mcluskey’s dysfunctional family included a mullet wearing belligerent daughter who had a penchant for defacing property. Her occasional graffiti companion was not a peer but in this absurd improv universe, a golden turban wearing soccer mom. We also meet Mrs. Mcluskey’s felon of an ex-husband. He was sprung from jail two years ago unbeknownst to Mrs. Mcluskey. You can take the man out of the jail but with this character you can’t take the jail out of the man. He still insists on wearing his bright orange prison uniform and most of his dialogue centers around some aspect of prison life. He finds it comforting to eat tater tots since that’s what he ate behind bars. When he brings movies over to watch with his daughter, they’re all prison flicks. He cheated on Mrs. Mcluskey with a clown who attended a party in their home 18 years ago. The clown still resides in the home under beds and in crawl spaces, unbeknownst to Mrs. Mcluskey, until now. Naturally the clown is the most together of all the characters and the voice of reason. Mrs. Mcluskey has a social worker to check on her and bring her to Partners of Prisoners support meetings. Rounding out the cast is a mild-mannered science teacher who takes on other roles in the production.
The show began like a traditional improv show by taking suggestions from the audience. The daughter, Tiffani Diamond asked for suggestions for what to watch on TV and various scenes of television genres were improvised. This facilitated exposition and the plot unfolded through skillful improvisation.
The clown decided that Mrs. Mcluskey needed a road trip to assess her options in life and perhaps spark some new interests. As they drove the car, the cast improvised conditions of wind, rain and wildlife. The ill-fitting wigs doubled as birds flying in front of the car. Instead of starting small with origami or crock pot cuisine, Mrs. Mcluskey went right for testing the waters of dominatrixism. That wasn’t quite her forte, especially when she said to her client, “here, try this apparatus” which was a chair. The next endeavor was scuba diving with a big blue plastic tarp simulating water. While she was better at this than paddling patrons, it still wasn’t the thing for her. The next stop was Bennigan’s open mic night. This segment was literally show stopping. They brought out a piano player. I thought he was going to accompany the cast, but this morphed into a true singer-songwriter segment with the very talented Craig Greenberg performing several original songs on piano and guitar.
This guy was the real deal with CD’s for sale at the end of the show. This was a very clever and pleasantly surprising maneuver from the troupe. After the wonderful musical interlude, they returned to the open mic and several characters did stand up comedy. Mrs. Mcluskey seemed to excel at comedy. Of course the clown became her manager and she booked a national commercial directed by her ex-husband who learned to direct in prison. When the road trip was said and done, Mrs. Mcluskey searched her soul and decided that being a dominatrix actually was her calling. All the dysfunctional characters found their dysfunctional ways and the show ended with another wonderful song from Mr. Greenberg.
I don’t need any suggestions from the audience to help me convey how good this show was. You’ve heard of Paramount Plus and Disney Plus. Well, this was Improv Plus. The entire cast has incredibly vast and impressive credits as well as tons of professional experience. The troupe was very comfortable with each other and played well off each other. Costumes, props and furniture made this feel like a full-length theatrical production which it was. It just happened to be all improvised. I applaud all improv artists who have to think up funny lines and scenarios on their feet. This troupe was up for the task.
Director Robert Baumgardner certainly directed the cast in the right direction. While I watched Jamie Maloney’s quick witted and hysterical version of Ernestine Mcluskey, I believed I was watching a woeful middle-aged housewife, even with a full beard and mustache. The artistic director Nannette Deasy also happened to expertly play the cohesive clown, Pound Foolish. She was not clowning around with her fine funny performance. Sam Katz as Tiffany Diamond was no diamond in the rough. Job well done portraying the trouble teenage daughter. Vikki Martin wore several hats including a golden turban and they all suited her perfectly with her wonderful performance of Sylvia Smith and others. The very likeable Tony Bozanich did a fabulous job as the mild mannered Mike Schulman and then boosted the energy level to portray Bennigan’s open mic host. Portraying the perpetual jailbird James Mcluskey Sr., someone should lock Mark Adam Smith in a theater and throw away the key. He was spot on and consistently funny throughout the show. Craig Greenberg’s wonderful original music and skilled piano and guitar playing was the surprise cherry on top of this production. The Marvelous Mrs. Mcluskey and all the madcap characters in her world were truly marvelous.