From Hamlet to Harry Potter, many of the greatest tales ever told have been monomyths.
The term was dubbed by American writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell to describe a basic narrative pattern used in folklore around the world: An ordinary Joe must suddenly become a hero and embark on a personal journey full of all sorts of extraordinary trials and tribulations.
Using Campbell’s structure as an outline, each night, the cast of the Philly Improv Theater’s new Fringe show Myths & Monsters will create a new fantastical tale with nothing but their comedic instincts, three colored blankets and a handful of Scrabble tiles.
Scrabble tiles? Yes, Scrabble tiles.
Rather than taking a suggestion from the audience to get them started, the cast begins each show by spreading a handful of Scrabble tiles on the stage and attempting to unscramble a reasonably logical title for their myth. From there, well, that’s when the real improvisational magic happens.
The first scene is especially crucial. Besides planting the seed for whatever adventure lies ahead, ultimately, one person must emerge as the lone hero.
If you’re not familiar with long-form improv, these first few minutes might be a little confusing. Allow me to explain: There’s eight people on stage simultaneously trying to figure out who they are, where they are and what they are doing. So don’t go in trying to make sense of it; just go along for the wonderfully awkward ride.
In a rehearsal performance, the cast assigned their hero the task of breaking a curse that has left the women of the town barren. In the process, she encounters an array of hilarious creatures, from conjoined evil twins (appropriately named Honey and Sunshine) to a four-person tree monster with one very large deviated septum.
Obviously, there’s no telling what sort of supernatural obstacles, evil spirits and blood-thirsty beasts audiences can expect each night, but they’re guaranteed to be entertaining.
Directed by Nick Gillette, Myths & Monsters stars both long-time improvisers and PHIT instructors, as well as some of the theater’s newest talents. And, like any good improv show, they all bring their own unique energy to the table.
If you do go to any of the four upcoming performances, be sure to stick around afterwards, as PHIT will be running back-to-back Fringe productions almost every night at the Adrienne. Both Friday and Saturday you can catch comedic duo Jason Grimley and Ralph Andracchio at 9 p.m. as they co-host The Grimacchio Variety Hour, a smorgasbord of entertainment that includes a little bit of improv, a little bit of sketch, dance interludes and even a live band.
Sept. 6-9, 7:30pm. $12. Mainstage at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St. 215.413.1318. livearts-fringe.org