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Improv adds a whole new dimension in 'Twilight Zone UnScripted'

August 29, 2013|By Steve Appleford, steve.appleford@latimes.com
  • Ensemble of "Twilight Zone UnScripted," which opens Sept. 6 at Burbank's Falcon Theatre.
Ensemble of "Twilight Zone UnScripted,"… (Courtesy of Photo…)

“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man,” Rod Serling once wrote, beginning his weekly introduction to “The Twilight Zone.” Now there is a sixth dimension he probably never imagined, as the Impro Theatre transforms his classic TV anthology series into the live comedy of “Twilight Zone UnScripted.”

Serling’s original creation wasn’t humorless — not with such comedic icons as Buster Keaton and Art Carney passing through — but the series’ central diet was usually dread and the unexplained, unfolding in half-hour installments of science fiction and fantasy. In the hands of the Impro Theatre group, it will become a source for laughs when its 30-show run opens Sept. 6 at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank.

A cast of seven will dress in various shades of black, white and gray to evoke the look of the original TV series, which ran from 1959 to 1964, dealing with mid-century “American characters that are very earnest and filled with joy,” said Dan O’Connor, Impro Theatre’s artistic director. “Or the dark side of that time — McCarthyism and people filled with paranoia.”

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As creator and host of the series, Serling, “liked to look at what people do under pressure, what they do when they’re isolated, and how do you reveal a true essence of a person,” O’Connor added. “As a performer it can be a lot of fun, and a lot of the episodes are. But there’s also dark corners of Rod Serling-esque narrative that is terrifying and fun to get into. We’ve done a great job of throwing each other into these situations that are really frightening.”

Co-directed by Jo McGinley and Stephen Kearin, who are also in the cast, each night is built from suggestions from the audience — a tradition of many improvisational companies. Among the newest members of the cast is Mike McShane, a New York stage actor also known as a 1990s regular on “Whose Line is it Anyway?”

During rehearsals this week, one of the spontaneous stories involved a pharmacy for aliens, with a human working behind the counter, as creatures from other worlds waited in line for drugs to deal with their interplanetary maladies.

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