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    A Waiter's Nightmare

    You think you're so cleaver

    "A Waiter's Nightmare," an evening of improv organized as a kind of comedy dining experience in which you get to order some of the dishes, could stand to be a little spicier.


    Improv is probably as hard to promote as it is to write about because there's no way to tell people what they're going to see when every show is completely different. Fortunately, the Freestyle Rep company keeps thinking of ways to package its shows that give you a concept to grab onto.

    Company: Freestyle Rep.
    Cast: Laura Livingston, Mike Durkin, William Cefalo, Matty Merrill, Ciara Pressler, Laura Valpey, Julieanne Ziegler..

    Related links: Official site
    Trilogy Theatre
    341 West 44th St
    Jan. 12 - March 30, 2003

    Following last year's "TheatreSports," in which two teams went head-to-head in a boxing-style competition, Freestyle now offers "A Waiter's Nightmare." As you enter, your hostess (Laura Livingston in formal wear) will ask if you'd like to be seated on the terrace and show you to your seat. Like a waitress reciting the day's specials, she asks what you'll be having for tonight's sketch. Sure, it's a gimmick, but hey, why not?

    The night I dined there, the appetizers were reasonably, uh, appetizing, but the main course arrived a bit tepid. (The official description says you can send a scene back to the kitchen if you find it underdone, but that wasn't the case.) In a tasty morsel at the beginning of the show, a young groom-to-be (William Cefalo) told his fiancee (Julieanne Ziegler) he's going to make her the happiest woman around.

    "But I'm already so happy," she said. "How much happier can I get?"

    "I was thinking 10 percent the first year, and then . . . ," he answered.

    A long-form creation took shape as the young woman decided to fake her own death to fool her fiance, and enlisted the help of a corrupt funeral home. Although really, the actual story isn't as important as the skill of the people creating it, and that was uneven.

    Try this experiment — quick, think of a funny way somebody could die.

    Eaten by koalas? Fell into a vat of oolong? A terrible folding-chair accident? One of the actresses in the show needed to think of one on the spur of the moment, and came up with: the victim was hit by a truck and dragged by a dog into a gas station where there was an explosion. A sort of acceptable answer, but not an interesting one. Not a surprising one.

    Lulls are an inevitable part of improv, but this lack of imagination was more than a lull — I came to expect complacent, easy answers most of the time. When the show really needed a kick in the pants, several of the young cast members showed they would not take a chance, go out on a limb, do the unexpected, to jump-start the creative process.

    The one exception — in addition to company founder Mike Durkin, who moved the show along with consistent improvisatory ability — was fiery-haired Matty Merrill, much less reluctant than his castmates to throw himself into his character and take it a little bit over the top. He came up with consistently funny ideas and played off Durkin nicely in their mildly twisted funeral-home scenes.

    Not that "A Waiter's Nightmare" is a nightmare at all — far from it. It has its amusing moments, to be sure, but these improvisers don't seem to be at the top of their form. It's the performance equivalent of diner food. Go for a burger and you'll get a perfectly acceptable burger; order the irony-crusted filet of sacred cow with non-sequitur pesto and you're only asking for disappointment.

    JANUARY 20, 2003

    Reader comments on A Waiter's Nightmare:

  • A Waiter's Nightmare   from Mike Durkin, Jan 22, 2003

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