Armando Diaz' Evente'

The Press

Improv Review, April 5, 2002
original article

Chicago Improv at Its Finest

Armando Diaz' Evente (Chicago)
CIF Showcase - Atheneum Theater
Friday, April 5, 10:30 pm
Reviewed by Jonathan Bender

When you take a cast of improvisational all-stars from Chicago and put them on one stage, it is easy to see that city still holds arguably the greatest collection of improv talent in the world. I have seen very few shows in which the group manages to negotiate cuts and scene work with equal skill, but the players of Armando Diaz' Evente were dedicated to creating a tight performance.

The group received the suggestion of "retirement party" and revolved their scenes around a family getting ready to celebrate the matriarch's retirement as CEO of Kraft Foods. The group employed flashbacks, asides, and callbacks to further the plot and introduce new characters; however, they avoided the use of gimmicks and only inserted these devices when it seemed a natural point to introduce a relationship or to further explain the dynamics of a character.

The true strength of this group was how well they listened. They nailed everything from entrances and exits to the names of characters in callbacks. A player arriving from offstage provided whatever was required for a scene immediately. Moreover, the players were adept at getting each other in trouble and recognizing those moments. The husband's lap-dancing performance at the retirement party was seen by his father, an army general, several scenes after the son had reluctantly agreed to the dance. Meanwhile it was noted how disappointed his dad would be if he knew that his son was lap dancing again.

Armando Diaz' Evente provided an example of how longform can be extraordinarily successful in the hands of improvisers who are working together to create interesting scenarios and characters.

Performink, January 18, 2002

UCB's Armando Diaz Returns to Chicago Stage

In many ways, it’s a typical Chicago man meets stage, man conquers stage, man moves to New York story.

But Armando Diaz–comedy/improv writer, director, instructor and Chicagoland native–believes he’ll be performing on Windy City stages, with some regularity, indefinitely.

"It’s good to give something back and see what people are up to in Chicago," Diaz said. Despite living in the Big Apple, he doesn’t see much of a problem with mounting the occasional Chicago show. Take the currently running Armando Diaz Evente as an example. "In this process, we only rehearse one week–five rehearsals" Diaz said just after Christmas, before the show started. "I know that, coming to this town, people are trained well. I don’t have to waste a lot of time teaching them to improvise."

Before moving to New York, Diaz rose to the top of the Chicago scene with shows at the Annoyance Theatre, Second City and ImprovOlympic (home to the long-running The Armando Diaz Experience). While he still performs "very occasionally," he found the most satisfaction in the roles of writer, director and teacher. After moving to New York, he spent two seasons as head writer for The Upright Citizens Brigade sketch comedy show on Comedy Central and directed stage shows including Marooned, Two Irish Jerks and Perverts.

Diaz spoke about the differences between performing in the two cities. "I think that in New York, there’s probably a little more pressure," he said. "Audiences are a little proper. Chicago has had improv for a long time and audiences there are very improv experienced. They tend to be a little more generous. In New York, they’re not so used to it. You have to be a little more on your toes because they expect a lot. And long-form improv is still fairly new to most cities."

Diaz’ current show at the WNEP Theater showcases his original spin on long-form improvisation. Stemming from an audience suggestion, The Armando Diaz Evente features multiple storylines all leading up to one big event that has an impact on all the characters involved. "It’s kinda like a big play, but it’s more like a film because it has a lot of scope," he said. Comparing it to other well-known improv forms, he adds, "It differs from, say, the Harold because you’re just telling one story."

Weighing in on the "Sketch vs. Improv" question, Diaz sees the two as complementary as opposed to contradictory. "The thing about improvised scenes is that you can’t take them straight and put them on TV. But what’s nice about improv is that it’s like very quick shorthand for creating sketches. You have two, three people working on it and, unlike writing sketch comedy ahead of time, the audience is there to let you know right away if it’s funny or not."

In New York, Diaz is currently working as a writer, director and instructor for the Upright Citizens Brigade, which has become a New York institution much like Chicago’s Second City or ImprovOlympic. He is also a founding member of Leche Magica, which produces short, comic videos. And while he’s unsure of whether or not he’ll make the Chicago Improv Festival this spring, Diaz doesn’t foresee a long absence from the Windy City stages.

The Armando Diaz Evente, the first 2002 production of FuzzyCo, runs Saturdays through Feb. 16 at 10:30 p.m. at the WNEP Theater, 3209 N. Halsted St. Tickets are $10. For reservations, call 773/755-1693. Cast includes Patrick Brennan, Laurel Coppock, Dina Facklis, Fuzzy Gerdes, Shaun Himmerick, Elizabeth McNaughton, Phillip Mottaz, Rob Smith, Nancy Howland Walker, Zach Ward and Julia Wolfe.

Chicago Reader, January 11, 2002

Armando Diaz' Eventé
FuzzyCo at WNEP Theater

Few things are harder to pull off than long-form improvisation. And even when it works, it's not for anyone wedded to the traditions of climax, denouement, etc. However, those who enjoy seeing characters and situations developed out of thin air should appreciate this clever ensemble's proficiency. From the audience suggestion of "divorce court session," FuzzyCo's six men and five women created a court-room scene involving sexual infidelity, a confused jury (do divorce courts have juries?), a lawyer who speaks through a hand puppet and believes he's a god. This bit expanded into a family situation loosely involving some of the courtroom characters and others who watch the antics unfold on TV.

The group's strength on opening night was its ability to maintain characters while moving thinnish stories forward. Especially adept were Rob Smith as the lawyer-god, Zach Ward (a Giovanni Ribisi-meets-Andy Kaufman lost boy), and Dina Facklis as a mother figure who makes her own soap. Most important, the humor was consistently based in character; no one went for easy (i.e potty) laughs. In fact, the players weren't focused on laughs at all but on drawing out the natural humor of the situations. Intricate plot lines and in-depth psychology? Hell no, but that's why we have Eugene O'Neill. Watching artists fly without a net is a different kind of fun.

--Kim Wilson

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