Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Review: Tongue & Groove's "Unspoken"

By Toby Zinman

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.


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

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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