Murder, secrets, a diving board and a talking dog named Fifi. What more could a person want out of a long-form improv show? The College of William and Mary’s oldest performing improv group, Improvisational Theatre, presented, “WhodunnI.T.,” a unique take on the well-beloved murder-mystery genre. “WhodunnI.T.” began as any good improv show should: asking the audience for a word or phrase to anchor their story. With an array of words like “city,” “cricket” and “fisherman” being tossed out by the small number of in-person audience members, “diving board” is what won the cast over. The troupe began with a short improv exercise to set the foundation for the plot of the show. From this exercise came the tale of the infamous pool party hosted by the mysterious Reginald Poolface. The events that followed would alter the lives of our band of players forever.
Members of the troupe divided into four groups, some taking on multiple roles. The first act began with a group of scientists working to decontaminate an amusement park pool with their newest algae-killing invention. They received an invitation to Reginald Poolface’s pool party extravaganza, and eager to make some extra cash, the two scientists looked forward to attending. Following them was a group of fourth graders intent on being the coolest kids at the pool through only wearing Justice swimsuits and accepting any dare thrown at them. As a former fourth grader, I can confirm that the cool kids did indeed only wear Justice swimsuits, and completing every dare was the mark of a truly cool kid. Unbeknownst to them, the list of dares they acquired included attending Mr. Poolface’s pool party.
The next group consisted of a set of 37 year old triplets trying to redeem themselves after being kicked out of the 1987 Olympics as they wanted to do the duet synchronized swimming event as a trio. They were living at home with their coach and dad, who preferred to go by, “Coach Dad,” when they received an invitation to Mr. Poolface’s pool bash. Excited for a chance to swim again, they knew that their only chance for success was to fool Poolface into thinking that they were twins rather than triplets so that all of them could taste the glory found in synchronized swimming. The fourth group, as one would expect, included Reginald Poolface, as well as his trusty henchman Igor, whom he often called Reginald, and Fifi the dog. The scientists, fourth graders and disgraced swimmers all took a music-filled boat ride to the fateful pool party. However when Poolface tripped into his lethally acidic pool, the murder mystery began.
One of the standout performances of the evening came from Anthony Piccoli ’22 with his portrayal of Gerry, the 37 year old, 7 foot tall, former Olympic athlete triplet who refuses to believe she is a fully-grown adult. Piccoli received some of the more outlandish improv curveballs and played them off with the perfect combination of melodrama and over-the-top humor.
New to the group this semester, George Piccininni ’23 was another light in the night’s mysterious tale of murder. With his back hunched and switching between an old gothic voice and a snooty British accent, Piccininni encapsulated the perfect Igor-like accomplice to “Lord Poolface.”
As a pun enthusiast, I must applaud Zoë Bowen Smith ’21 in her role as fourth grader Petunia. When fourth graders Rose and Petunia read the dare that they must attend Mr. Poolface’s party, Rose worried, asking Petunia “What are we going to do?” to which Petunia responded, “I think you mean, water are we going to do?” While I’m sure many of you are shaking your heads or groaning at this joke, I thoroughly appreciated it.
The cast also improvised a “travel song” that will be stuck in your head for the next three to five business days, as well as an impressively designed song about friendship that united the characters at the end of the performance.
“WhodunnI.T.” was entertaining through and through, with each cast member bringing comedy, drama and quick-wit. Unfortunately, some moments did miss the mark. As someone who draws most of their murder-mystery knowledge from the likes of the movies Clue and Knives Out, I was expecting the murder to occur early on in the performance. What audience members received was 40 minutes of character exposition, leading to a climax that only occurred in the last 20 minutes of the production. While the deep-dive into each character allowed the actors to conjure up distinct personalities, the murder-mystery plot line became somewhat muddled.
Improv performers must wear multiple hats, create compelling characters and pay close attention to a storyline that is being made up on the spot. Even for professionals, this is a difficult task to take on, and all those who try should be commended. With that said, there were the occasional name, age and plot line slip-ups. Fortunately for the audience, the talented troupe played each blunder off masterfully. One example of this came when Igor was mistakenly addressed as Reginald midway through the performance. Of course, the logical explanation for this, Poolface shared, was that, “I like to call him by my first name. It’s a little more personable.”
While the performance may not have been perfect, in the grand scheme of things, what really is? Even the Marvel cinematic universe has plot holes. Improv is one of the most challenging forms of theatrical expression. This performance had no script and only the prompt “diving board” to go off of. Acknowledging these difficulties makes each cast members’ performance all the more worthy of praise. To quote Lord Poolface speaking to the coolest fourth graders around, we triple quadruple double single triple quadruple octuplet dog dare you to check out this performance.