Rathskellar’s ‘LOTR’ Performance Toes the Line

Confused students looking for an improv performance on Nov. 15 found only the dramatic soundtrack of “Lord of the Rings” escaping from White Hall 110. “Sit back, relax and enjoy the movie!! — Rathskellar,” read the whiteboard at the front of the room.

Students filed in, some watching the beginning of “The Fellowship of The Ring,” but most talking among themselves. Of course, the audience knew this event wouldn’t be “Lord of the Rings”-themed “unless we wanted it to be,” according to the event description on Facebook for “Rathskellar Presents: TLOtR:TFOtR, Special Edition, Extended Cut.” By the time the improv troupe entered the room, there were about 30 students in the auditorium.

Once the “Lord of the Rings” movie clip ended, the 10-person comedy troupe introduced themselves. They began the set with a series of “short-form” games. To warm up the room, they began by asking everyone to think of something and shout it out. As the group is “no smut” (although they do “toe the line”), according to Toni Gentry (19C), they told everyone to yell the most vulgar thing they could think of to get it out of the way before the performance. There were a few times where I questioned the group’s clean joke rule — such as during a scene with a sculptor who trapped real people in sculptures for apparently sexual reasons — but for the most part, they were family friendly.

Most of the performance was short-form, which consisted of improv games played by a couple actors at a time. Some games were obvious hits with the audience, both because of the game structure itself and in acting, while others fell flat. The troupe began with a game in which one actor left while the audience decided on a quirk for each of the other three characters at a party the other character was throwing. The goal was for the “host” to guess the characters’ quirks. The game set the actors up well for success and it went over smoothly, despite bizarre quirks such as an obsession with birds (the actor pretended to be a bird the whole time) and butter for hands, which became easier to guess when the characters decided they needed butter for their popcorn.

Rathskellar also implemented other games, such as “last line, first line,” in which three pairs of actors are given different scenarios and can tap in during each other’s scenes and use the last line of the previous scene as their first. Scenes featured a parole officer, strangers at a taco truck rodeo and a son complaining to his father for not taking him to Arby’s. There was also a game that required the actors to act out a prototypical relationship and, when told, to suddenly sing songs or rap — the actors’ abilities to come up with songs and rhyming lyrics on the spot was impressive, and it was hard not to guffaw as the grandma surgeon and her patient musically debated whether or not she was fit to perform brain surgery.

Another popular hit was a film-noir inspired game in which characters were in the middle of a crime and had the opportunity to stop the scene and monologue, with some smooth jazz in the background. For example, one actor was trying to decide whether she would try to date the other guy on the jewel heist or kill him.  

The long-form game to end the night commenced with a short interview of an audience member, which inspired the first part of the bit. The exact rules were not explained as thoroughly as in the short-form games, but they consisted of a number of short scenes, some of which ended up converging and referencing each other. This was when the aforementioned sculptor reappeared, as well as an evil mastermind who poisoned a river and a couple of prisoners planning an escape. These additions were more spontaneous, and because of the troupe’s smoothness, it was honestly hard not to forget that the sketch was being improvised. Overall, it was an enjoyable evening of laughter with a healthy dose of confusion, and each of the 10 actors toed the hilarious but at times fine line between too suggestive and too safe.