Review: Tongue & Groove's "Unspoken"

By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

"This show has never been seen before and will never be seen again." This  is how Bobbi Block, founder of the improv company Tongue & Groove, introduces "Unspoken," a 75-minute show that will be created before our eyes and will be based on audience submissions: every show is a one-of-a-kind.

She is joined onstage by the talented troupe, all improv veterans, many of whom have surprising day jobs: Beth Dougherty, Noah Herman, Ed Miller, Fred Siegel, and Carrie Spaulding. Slightly offstage is Carol Moog whose harmonica both accompanies the scenes and lets the performers know when a scene has come to its natural conclusion or has worn out its welcome.

It begins with 3x5 cards we're each asked to fill out, with either a text message that contains "juicy" words or an unexpressed desire. Each member of the group will then choose a card, pair up with another actor, and create a narrative. Sometimes the stories are funny (9th grade rehearsal of a production of Romeo and Juliet), sometimes sad (a wise woman who has been hired to take care of an old man), sometimes smart, sometimes not. Many are about sex-- the easy go-to topic if you want laughs or shock; the best of these is about a guy whose experience has been "vanilla" and is now dating "strap-on-Zelda." The frequent device, which doesn't always make sense, is that they are texting or e-mailing their conversations.

It is fascinating to watch the scenes weave through each other, often creating surprising relationships between characters from different stories, as themes emerge (dissatisfied women) and family portraits (adult children and their parents).

This is "reality-based, serio-comic, spontaneous theater" and sometimes it is  dazzling to watch these actors come up with excellent lines and strategies (Fred Siegel, Beth Dougherty and Carrie Spaulding are especially adept at this). But sometimes the show made me feel—as improv often does (mea culpa, mea culpa)-- that this is why the world needs playwrights.

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Tongue & Groove at the Playground at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St. Friday at 7:30 and Saturday at 5 p.m. Tickets: $12. Information:        http://www.comedysportzphilly.com/tickets/

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