Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre Performs: We Know How You Die!
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story

Shannon O'Neill, Brandon Scott Jones, Connor Ratliff, and Molly Thomas
Photo by Teresa Castracane, courtesy of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company is hosting the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, or UCB, based in New York and Los Angeles, for an evening of long-form improvisational comedy through the end of July. Despite the forbidding title, We Know How You Die! is packed with laughs that can't be replicated from one performance to the next.

On a stage bare of everything except four chairs and two doors (set design by Scott Little), the four UCB performers invite audience members to help them in the first act, then conduct a brief onstage interview of the person they select—at the performance I attended, a high school librarian. Then the audience member leaves the stage and the performers use pieces of her or his interview to create scenes from a life—ending, naturally enough, with how the person will die. It's amazingly funny.

Long-form improv means that the actors must work in real time, without a director or any preparation. So chunky, bearded Connor Ratliff played the librarian as a little girl tormented by her older brothers (Shannon O'Neill, Brandon Scott Jones), and slim Molly Thomas rescued her as the oldest brother. The identities kept shifting throughout, always anchored in the audience member's experiences. (She said, for example, that when Mormon missionaries visited her house, her father would invite them in and try to convert them.)

Following intermission, the performers build a succession of scenes around words of wisdom provided by the audience. At this performance, they created a zany, absurdist plot from "Soybeans are truth," apparently a motto in soybean-loving Peoria, Illinois. It involved a gay Canadian man marrying an American woman to get a green card, a visit to Peoria to visit a replica of the National Mall made completely out of soybeans, a gaggle of Girl Scouts, and the Sweeney Todd-like secret shared by the keepers of the exhibit.

Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre is a factory for contemporary comedy; Amy Poehler is one of its founders and its alumni are widely seen and employed as performers and writers. It is only the latest improv company to visit Woolly, joining Second City and the Chicago Neo-Futurists among others.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Upright Citizens Brigade Performs: We Know How You Die!
July 12th - 31st
Performed by the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre: Shannon O'Neill, Brandon Scott Jones, Connor Ratliff, and Molly Thomas
641 D St. N.W., Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-393-3939 or

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