You probably know Capitol City Theatre as the home of Salem’s only improv comedy show. You may remember its old digs at the Reed Opera House, or if you have been there recently, you know its current street-level location at the corner of Liberty and Ferry. It has been a few years since I caught a show. The theatre came under new management in October of 2015, and since then, it has expanded its programming to include stand-up, open mic, improv classes, and student performance nights. With beer, wine, and bar food on tap, Cap City has become a full-fledged comedy club.
If you are unfamiliar, the premise of improv comedy is that the audience throws out prompts to the cast, who make up scenes on the spot following certain rules. The cast of the night—Charles Weathers, Chuck Williams, and Zach Dunlap—were entirely new to me, but the show is still clean and family-friendly. Also nearly the same was the line-up of games; like Vaudeville, if something works, keep it. (Although I am told that the games are rotated out seasonally). The trio of players was firing on all cylinders, and the improv was excellent. The jokes (or “offers,” in improv terms) were two or three steps ahead of the obvious, and the players focused on what we care about most: relationships between characters. Part of the fun is getting to know the cast. Charles took on the role of the main MC, understandably exhausted from having a newborn in the house (congratulations, btw). Zach provided support as the master of characters and accents. My personal favorite was Chuck, who landed an awesome Munchkin joke in the middle of game called Genres.
We celebrate theatre for its liveness, for its ephemeral nature, for the close relationship between actor and audience. Nowhere in theatre are those elements stronger than in improv. Even more than straight theatre, the audience becomes part of the creation process with their own offers and reactions. Is it deep? Maybe not, but neither is A Tuna Christmas. What it is, is social, casual, and fun.
The improv show was followed by stand-up comedy starting at 9:30. The stand-up is ticketed separately, and the audience was almost entirely new. To be clear—this part of the night is very adult, in both language and content. Three warm-up comics from Portland opened the set, although they did not know quite what to do with a Salem audience. The stoner jokes and gross-out humor were lost on this crowd. The parenting jokes from the third comic landed best, as it was clear that most of the audience were parents on a night out away from the kids.
The headline act was Eric DaSilva, a New York-based comic. Two main things separated him from the warm-up acts: experience and confidence. Being more travelled, he was also able to adjust his routine to fit the room. At the same time, he had a tendency to blame the audience when a joke failed, which was rarely. (Maybe it’s not us, my friend!) His humor was generally good-natured (although still adult), and if any one group was the target of his satire, it was the close-minded.
My only complaint was that the entire cast was men. Where are the women in comedy? Not in Salem that weekend, apparently. The line-up for both stand-up and improv changes weekly, so individual results may vary. My viewing companion and I laughed, and laughed long. The entire evening was absolutely a good night out, and worth a return visit. Check out the calendar at capitolcitytheatre.com for specific events.