TJ & Dave
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 8, 2006
The advance word out of Chicago is that TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi are among the very best at what they do, and the evidence on stage at the Barrow Street Theatre absolutely bears that out.
What TJ and Dave do is long-form improv, which means that they walk out on stage with no script and no preparation save their years of training and experience, and make up—on the spot, spontaneously—a complex hour (or so)-long comedy, in front of an audience (but with no interactivity; they don't seek or require suggestions from the crowd).
They've been doing this, mostly, in Chicago. Now, for one long weekend each month, they're doing it here in New York. Check them out: they're darned impressive.
Obviously the show you see won't be the same as the show I saw. The show I saw featured extraordinary character work, which I gather is one of the trademarks of this duo. Rather than switch gears and personas every few minutes (which is almost certainly less demanding), TJ and Dave invent a small number of characters for their improvised play and stick with them. They rely less on gags and more on character development and physicalization to keep us interested and laughing. Their plotting is almost astoundingly complicated, taking in not just a series of incidents with comic possibilities but back story as well. They really do "write" an original play up there every night.
The artfulness of what they do means they don't score off-the-wall hilarious jackpots that often, at least not at the performance I attended. Only once did they come up with something transcendentally funny—a grocery store staffer, trying to handle a dissatisfied customer, explained how to "go shopping" with a guileless simplicity that I certainly didn't see coming, and we all laughed and laughed.
But the lack of lots of big guffaw-inducing moments is more than made up for by the smaller, subtler laughs, of which there are a great many. And as I said, the cumulative effect of their spontaneous storytelling is breathtaking, or would be if we weren't so caught up in the crazy "reality" of the thing.
TJ and Dave strike me as consummate pros: they're not here to crack each other up. Ultimately, I think that's a good thing, for their easy and assured partnership is what makes them so successful at their without-a-net derring-do brand of theatre.