The Nuclear Family

Improv comedy can often be a hit-and-miss affair and depends largely on the subtle chemistry of the ensemble. But this Needtheater production, which builds an evening around the thinnest of premises, soars into the stratosphere of comedy, due entirely to a trio of fearless and talented performers—Jimmy Ray Bennett, John Gregorio, and Stephen Guarino—and a gifted composer-musician, Matthew Loren Cohen.

Using the simplest of launching pads—a nuclear family—along with a few chairs, a piano, and dozens of hats, the group conjures up magical hilarity, not to mention some very inventive musical numbers, over the span of 90 minutes. Every show is different, but on the evening reviewed, all at the suggestion of the audience, Bennett was assigned the role of a dad, George Greenway, while Gregorio played mother Martha and Guarino their daughter, Chelsea.

While it took a few minutes for the energy to click in and for the performers to lay out the direction of the story, the show was purring in no time. George had his "Over the Rainbow" number about winning back his wife, who was about to file divorce papers, while Chelsea got to stew about no one paying attention to her. Guarino had ample time to correct Chelsea's problem as he pranced about, blatantly upstaging the other actors, who promptly got their revenge by forcing him to disrobe in a hilarious sequence.

During the course of the evening, each actor had a chance to stretch his performance wings, playing myriad roles that seemed to spring fully formed from their imaginations. Of course, this is all the result of lots of hard work and many evenings spent together onstage. The trio and their composer ran the show for nine months Off-Broadway and have regional runs in venues around the country. All in all, they are a fun bunch of guys who should not be missed in this delightful piece of improv.

Presented by Needtheater at the Meta Theatre, 7801 Melrose Ave., L.A.
July 24–Aug. 9. Fri.–Sun., 8 p.m.
(800) 838-3006.