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    2008-2009 reviews:
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    Centralia casting

    Be present at the creation as as Centralia, with former members of the renowned improv troupe Burn Manhattan, practices its revelatory brand of spontaneous theater.


    Every Centralia show is flecked with sparks of magic, momentary glimpses of the fire of creation. Centralia is an improv group featuring former members of the renowned Burn Manhattan, which set the standard for improvisational performance in New York in the late '90s. It's hard to explain what you're going to see at a Centralia show because it's completely different every time — guaranteed!

    Cast: Matt Higgins, Jay Rhoderick, Kevin Scott.
    Music by: Mark Levenson.
    If you've seen the Second City troupe or "Whose Line Is It Anyway," then you have an idea, but only the faintest idea, what Centralia is all about. Like a sitcom without a laugh track, this troupe is free to lurch from zany to dramatic to viciously satirical because it practices a long-form style of improv that aims to create scenes rather than just laughs.

    The crew come out clad in matching industrial/institutional jumpsuits that suggest miners, laborers — or is it prisoners? or test subjects? — and they take random, spontaneous positions on the stage. Give yourself a split second to imagine what kind of situation those positions might suggest (that's what the performers are doing), and then we're off.

    The scene could be a black satire about brutal torture in a nuclear power plant. Suddenly we're transported into a comedy about a well-to-do couple who come home to find their allegedly gifted son expressing his creativity all over a priceless modernist masterpiece they forgot to put out of reach. Watching these scenes, you know that no playwright before has ever created a scene whose pivotal line was "Never the Kandinsky!" But it works — and then a second later, it's gone forever.

    Before the end (from what I've seen in several shows over the years), you can bet on the first sketch coming back with a new twist — and watch for other remnants of the early sketches cropping up in the last few. This is a kind of theater that paints itself on the back of your mind, relying on your observation and imagination almost as much as the performers', so go prepared to think as well as laugh. And then go again, as often as you like, because each show is a new revelation.

    JUNE 26, 2001

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