TheatreSports guns for laughs with Western World

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      Produced by Vancouver TheatreSports League. At the Improv Centre on Thursday, April 13. Continues Thursday through Saturday until mid-May

      They say the western is dead. And it is. But make the characters androids and add a creepy mastermind who controls everyone, and now you’re cooking with gasoline, pardner. And so we have Western World, the latest knockoff from the good folks down at the Improv Centre on Granville Island.

      Based on the hit HBO series Westworld (which itself was based on the 1973 Michael Crichton film), it’s an oater without horses. Well, the horses are there; you just have to use your imagination. The sound effects by Laura Skelton help.

      Six players in full costume (on this night Clare Filipow, Lauren McGibbon, Allen Morrison, Margret Nyfors, Michael Teigen, and Pearce Visser) amble onto the excellent set by John Taylor and are introduced by show creator Graeme Duffy, who plays the Anthony Hopkins character Robert Ford, the cyborgs’ mastermind. With the old-timey western outfits and the backdrop—featuring a saloon, trading post, and Maggie’s Salon—the production values are topnotch.

      Duffy/Ford leads the actors in various improv games, each set in the town of Sweetwater in 1870. After each scene, the lifelike characters revert back to their trancelike state and are often subjected to a dressing-down from their creator.

      It’s always a pleasure seeing creative new ways the tried-and-true improv gimmicks are incorporated. Vancouver TheatreSports League is catching up with technology. In one scene, an audience member was handed a portable keyboard that was hooked up to the big screen and he wrote the lines for Filipow’s character.

      Each actor was given time to shine so none felt the need to impose their will on the group, as sometimes happens. Laughs came from everyone. The problem with the seemingly democratic nature of improv is that the squeaky wheel often gets the oil. One punter was loud and quick, supplying, by Duffy’s estimation, 65 percent of the suggestions. I think it was higher. They were decent ideas, but let the others have a chance.

      One other crowd member got to play a pivotal part in the second half. Led by Teigen, the woman was given a poncho and a hat and became the star of the show. We often see volunteers on-stage, but the conceit here fits perfectly with the original story. In the TV series, the Westworld amusement park allows rich guests to live out their western fantasies without fear of getting offed. So we had Teigen partner up with Alexia from the crowd. Together they wreaked havoc on Sweetwater. Oh, there was lots of gunfire and carnage, but the ringer came away unscathed, the last one standing.

      The androids, of course, will be put back together and continue entertaining for the run of the show until mid-May.