Monday, 11 January 2010 14:02

Review: The Dumb Show at American Stage

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The Dumb ShowOn a cold Sunday night following New Years day, 120 people gathered in the lobby of St. Petersburg's American Stage, many of them standing in the back or sitting on the floor, to watch Gavin Hawk and Ricky Wayne perform as The Dumb Show, improvising 60 minutes of comedy from the simple audience suggestion of a dumb New Year’s resolution: “loose weight.”

What transpired that evening was a dreamlike unscripted show, opening with a man exercising his typing fingers at the gym, and closing with a kid suffering from typhoid going berserk over a game of Risk at his typhoid-care summer camp.

Long-form improvisation can be difficult to describe – so much is lost in translation. The humor is in the moment, and situational, making it stronger and in many ways more satisfying, but it can be nearly impossible to explain to your friends why you were laughing so hard. The style, developed in Chicago, involves an entire performance building on a single audience suggestion given at the opening of the show. What follows is a series of scenes, each one originating from some detail of the last. As it is all improvised, even the performers never know what they're going to say next; but Hawk and Wayne are so polished, you might think they had prepared it beforehand. "A lot of people, when they see our show, don't believe that a lot of scenes are not scripted," says Hawk.
While scenes in your average long-form improv show run as little as two minutes, those in The Dumb Show are much longer – only five in Sunday's hour-long show – but you hardly notice it with their remarkable ability to keep each scene fresh and engaging. Their characters come alive, with interesting shifts taking the show in unexpected directions, and even scenes within the scenes, with hilarity at every turn. In one scene Wayne, as a terrible therapist, guided Hawk, the disturbed patient, through his childhood memories. Each memory was reenacted as a mini-scene with a life of own, each stranger (and funnier) than the last, until the therapist had nothing left but to comment on how weird his patient was.

Perhaps the success of The Dumb Show is due to their ability to blend two uniquely different improv styles: Ricky Wayne spent 4 ½ years at The Groundlings in L.A., while Gavin Hawk studied at The Second City and The Annoyance Theatre in Chicago. Much could be written on the differences between the two schools, but in essence west-coast improv is rooted in character work, while Chicago improv is relationship-based, seeking the "truth in comedy." The Dumb Show brings them together beautifully.

Gavin Hawk teaches acting and directing at Eckerd College. His one man show, Circumference of a Squirrel, has received critical acclaim. He recently appeared in the NBC special T.H.E.M. Ricky Wayne teaches improv in Tampa, and is a member of Got Jokes? Improv – a popular short-form group based in Tampa. He has worked with Armand Assante, Val Kilmer, and recently finished filming a TV movie for the SciFi Channel, “House of Bones.” The Dumb Show has been selected to perform at the Orlando Fringe Festival in May, and was recently submitted to the Chicago Improv Festival. Results have yet to be announced.

Don’t miss the Dumb Show, first Sunday of each month at The American Stage, 8:00 p.m. You never know what you are going see, but it is sure to leave you laughing. Tickets are pay-what-you-can at the door.

For more information on Hawk, Wayne or The Dumb Show, visit

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