Capital Fringe 2014 Review: ‘DECADES’

Improv comedy is a form of theater where it is created in the moment at the performance. Some of the great comedians of our time; Amy Poehler, Steve Carell, Will Ferrell – to name a few – were born out of the improv scenes of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. 4 and 9 Productions Improv Ensemble is daring to take on the difficult art form, but misses the mark in its attempt.


The premise is encouraging; the group promises to take us on a journey through four decades (50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s) using a simple suggested subject of conversation and a job that either a man or woman can hold. Normally in an Improv show the audience would be asked to yell out suggestions for the artists to perform, it is one of the more fun parts of the show, in this production the audience was asked to write the suggestion down for a random draw. I was a tad surprised, but ready for anything so I go with it. Much to my dismay there was no draw, none of the cast members interacted with us, there was simply a choice of “outdoor activities” and “sales” listed on the projected scene. I still go with it, but the topics were barely covered and seamed irrelevant through the entire piece, making the whole exercise moot.

The show went on to have what would be called long form multi-person scenes. However, it was not clear what the premise was for any of the decades. In an improv show you expect the ensemble to work with a and off of each other stepping in where the other is failing, turning one scene seamlessly into another, but this never happened. We were left with what seemed like half-sketch, half -improvised scenes that lacked the storyline of a sketch and the spontaneity of improv. Even the basic rules of improvisational theater like ‘never say no to a scene partner’  or ‘never ask a question’ were broken several times.

I applaud the effort of the artists, I would love to see more improvisational theater in the area, but this is simply not what improv should be. The largest laughs came from gaudy costumes, the audience starving at any chance to chuckle.

Reviewing the program I see that there are many experienced artists in this ensemble, I encourage them to come back to fringe next year armed with a more organized show.

Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes

4 and 9 Productions performance of DECADES plays through July 27, 2014 at Gearbox – 1021 7th Street, NW, 3rd floor, in Washington DC. For performance information and to purchase tickets, go to their Capital Fringe page.


  1. I didn’t see this show, but as an improviser and improv teacher I just wanted to say this:

    The use and interpretation of an audience suggestion is entirely up the the performers on stage. Some of the greatest improvisers in the world don’t even take a suggestion from the audience.

    “Never say no” and “don’t ask any questions” are principals taught to those that are new to improv to increase their chances of success. A troupe ignoring these principals doesn’t mean the improv they are doing is necessarily bad.

    In longform improv, a scene does not have to turn seamlessly into another. Editing choices are up to the improvisers and should honor the format they have decided to perform.

    Again, I didn’t see the show and it may have been terrible. However, it is clear that this reviewer possesses a narrow interpretation of an expansive and evolving art form.

    If you walk into an improv show with an idea of “how improv should be”, you will likely be disappointed.

    • Thanks for your support, Kevin! We’d love for you to come see the show.


      Anne says “there was simply a choice of “outdoor activities” and “sales” listed on the projected scene. I still go with it, but the topics were barely covered and seamed irrelevant through the entire piece, making the whole exercise moot.”

      What happened in our show:
      In the 50s the theme was women working outside the home (one wanted to sell Mary Kay).
      In the 60s an undercover cop hangs out in a park hoping to bust a drug sale that never takes place.
      In the 70s, an outdoor bake sale rivalry (charitable vs profitable).
      In the 80s, a behind the scenes dispute at an outdoor concert venue.

      the unifying thread of the night was women in the workplace, which played out in the final song as wanting to be free to be ourselves.

  2. Kevin – Thank you for your response! I think you made some valid points and have decided to clarify some things in my review. I am very open to all that Improv offers, I absolutely love the art form! I was lucky enough to study – although briefly – at the Second City. I wanted very badly to be more positive, but at the same time need to be honest to what I saw. These are good people and artists and I hope to see them again in the future. It is really difficult to do and applaud anyone who tries.

  3. I usually like the reviews on this site but this reviewer needs some basic training. I can’t tell from this what happened in any of the scenes or even if this improv group has 3 members or a dozen. There are no facts in this review – the reviewer basically just says improv should only be done one way and since this show was not done that way, she didn’t like it. And then later she amends her own review saying improv is hard and these are good artists but does not explain that either. This reads more like an amateur blog post than a review.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here