An undeniable amount of magic exists in the world of community theater. Anchored by unfaltering creativity and tucked away in a tiny plaza on Gunn Highway, the Carrollwood Players Theatre is the longest running community theater in Tampa (established in 1981), and (sadly enough) is a well-kept secret.
On Wednesday, to celebrate National Batman Day, local improv group Nine and Numb brought their brand of off-the-cuff humor to the Carrollwood Players Theatre, with Crusaders vs. Rogues , a superhero-themed improv show.
Sprinkled among the audience members in the tiny theater were several Batmen, a Batgirl, a Spiderman (who was subjected to a good deal of mockery by the actors) a Loki, and a child Gladiator — who would eventually win the costume contest by a considerable cuteness margin (the prize being “the finest Batman items one could dredge up from a dollar store”).
Perfectly breaking the fourth wall by directly addressing the audience, Clow set the tone for the evening. It was a performance during which the crowd controlled the direction of the show by offering suggestions for each scene. At its best, improv is a synthesis of the creativity of the actors and the audience.
The dueling teams were the Crusaders (Kelly Clow, John Hooper, Jen Martin, Erica Heiden, Ashley Kix) and the Rogues (Angel Borths, John Gustafson, Eric Misener, John Watson, Jim Johnson). Each were adorned in varying Batman paraphernalia and costumes, and jumped into “The Question Game,” an improv classic, in which two actors must have a conversation consisting only of question.
“Survivor” called for the Crusaders to act out an impromptu scene from the fictional film Sharknado: 6 (per audience request). At the end of each scene, the crowd voted by applause to eliminate one actor, eventually leaving only Erica Heiden to simultaneously (and hilariously) play every role.
In “Separate Tables,” Rogue team member John Watson jumped between dining at Golden Corral and Hannibal Lecter’s Restaurant (garnering perfectly timed references to fava beans and Chianti).
Through the course of the show, bad puns were to be met by audience groans, resulting in a deduction of points by scorekeeper Dawn Kidle. The use of curse words resulted in the same fate.
My personal favorite audience suggestion of the evening was probably the most puzzling, and came in the form of a request for a vacation destination for the game “Snapshot.” The suggestion — Chernobyl. The actors’ ability to somehow turn the glaringly unamusing nuclear disaster spot into something comedic and tasteful was endlessly entertaining.
When Clow asked for a volunteer to come on stage, it was unsurprising that the audience member dressed in a Spiderman suit was chosen, being that he’d already received a good deal of attention for dressing as a Marvel character on “Batman night.” Clow interviewed Spidey about the events of his day, yielding some remarkably uninspiring answers from the audience member. When he returned to his seat, the improv group convened for a brief thirty seconds and jumped right into a reenactment of Spiderman’s day and somehow turned the audience member’s boring answers into a fleshed out, hilarious scene.
The games that followed (including “Guessing Game,” “Superhero Funeral,” and “Redbox Rental”) cemented Nine and Numb’s ability to work together impeccably and keep their sharp wit intact. A definite comedic chemistry exists among the improv group.
Nine and Numb’s perfect comedic timing at Crusaders vs. Rogues was really something to marvel at (pun definitely intended).