And what do you know? As with the aforementioned purification exercise, they do — sometimes with a tad too much enthusiasm, but at other times, with amazing poise and pluck.
By some appreciably greater magnitude than in “Beertown,” the troupe’s highly entertaining audience-participation show about a Midwestern town meeting, “A Killing Game” upsets the traditional balance in the relationship between theater attendees and those they’ve paid to see. The gratification is immediate: The show turns anyone who cares to be an improv performer into one. Mind you, you can hang back and take in much of the 80-minute experience. But Dog & Pony is bent on ensuring that to some degree you become a participant, even if that means simply collapsing in your seat when the playing cards you’re dealt at the start of the evening instruct you to.
The irony of the sunny atmosphere created by seven color-coded actors — they dress like the suspects in the board game Clue — is that “A Killing Game” is all about death. “Achoo!” shouts the actor dressed nattily in blue (Jon Reynolds), and off we all go into the story of a plague. The tone of director Colin K. Bills’s production is mocking rather than ominous, however; as disaster epics go, it’s more “Airplane!” than “Andromeda Strain.”
If you take a step back from the nerdy nuttiness that ensues (we eventually wind up in a “Price Is Right”-type epidemiological game show, with a hilarious Prize Wall), you see that the yucks concern the reality that we’re all going to die: Death in this case is embodied by a glamorous, omnipresent woman in black (Rebecca Sheir), who silently files her cherry-red nails as the disease spreads. The game, it seems, is a metaphor for the denial of life’s finiteness. And a merry holiday season to you, too!
For “Beertown,” which enjoyed a satisfying run last summer in Woolly Mammoth Theatre’s rehearsal space, at the Capital Fringe Festival, the audience in essence remained on the sidelines: We were merely encouraged to ask questions about the items to be included in a fictional city’s time capsule and then to vote on the contents. This time, we’re compelled to get out of our seats, mingle with fellow playgoers — even form teams. (Singles Night at the Workshop, anyone?)