Summing up improv theater is like catching lightning in a bottle: It's right there in front of you, and then it's gone forever.
Because of this elusive quality, there always has to be the caveat when reviewing improv--
that what I saw isn't going to be what you'll see. The busy L.A. Connection's latest show, "2001: An Improv Odyssey" was fairly funny in good chunks last Saturday. That doesn't mean it will be funny this weekend.
For that matter, it may be funnier.
The six members of the squad under Kent Skov's direction are, at this point, not equally adept at improv. Steve Pinto, who at points resembles a giant Munchkin and was brilliant in one scene as a dummy to Skov's ventriloquist, has this thing mastered. Co-member Deven Green, on the other hand, has a way to catch up, which was sometimes crucial in group scenes where the team nature of improv takes over. This was reinforced early on during a scene in which the audience could tell cast members to "die" if they flubbed an improvised line: Green was the first to get the hook.
Where the show relied on preestablished frameworks, as in the ventriloquist bit or a section in which Pinto and Peter McTomney played "Celebrity Calls" and displayed their impersonation talents, it zipped along and never bogged down. But where there was a greater reliance on audience involvement, as in a "Mating Game" scene in which a visibly reluctant woman was pulled from the crowd (solely because it was her birthday) and had to play along, it seemed that the game would go on all night.
This audience dynamic can wreak havoc in the opposite way, as well. Another woman in the front row, constantly tossing in her comments and one-liners, clearly threw the cast off rhythm at several points and actually became an object of some good-natured ridicule. It was a test, and this group pulled through.
More than most improv ensembles, this one left a strong physical impression. Greg Spillman and Green used their tall, lanky physiques for comic effect, all the more contrast with Pinto's smaller appearance. Skov didn't appear to be theatrical until he adopted several character guises during the course of the show. McTomney and Brian Baldini worked together like a unit, such as in a bit where they mime visual clues for Green, playing a stressed-out Kinko's employee.
"2001: An Improv Odyssey," L.A. Connection Comedy Theatre, 13442 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Saturdays, 9 p.m. Indefinitely. $12. (818) 784-1868. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.