VICEGRIP
(Emma Hameau / McGill Tribune)

Improv Montreal’s VICEGRIP is a fresh take on a played-out trope

a/Arts & Entertainment/Theatre by

The lobby of Improv Montreal resonates 'cool.' It’s immediately clear that it’s designed for audiences to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. There’s a sense of calm that almost feels anachronistic, something that’s far too difficult to find in the most classically cool venues. It definitely sets the scene for the show, and perhaps even elevates the mood as audience members take their seats on fold-up chairs in the theatre. Entertainment is the goal, encouraging people to leave their minds at the door for an hour and a half of what can only be described as unfiltered fun.

The show opened with a duo called Nephews, who took the stage to play a variety of roles in a series of sketches, flashing back and forward as appropriate. The fact that the two actors did not crack up any more than they did was in itself an achievement: Their performance bordered on ridiculous. Featuring several gender switch-ups, 'political intrigue,' and a plotline based on Russian mail order wives, Nephews was entertaining and kept the energy high as the main act prepared to come on stage.

Following Nephews' departure, the show began with the entrance of protagonist Michael Bertucci (Travis Reason) clad in a tracksuit over a wife-beater. His appearance provided the show with a second of sobriety.

“This is VICEGRIP,” he announced.

The show is a three-part episodic series performed over three different days, meaning that as an audience member you had the chance to see all three episodes, and follow the drama, or just stop by for one performance and enjoy the intrigue wherever it had last left off. In character, Bertucci provided the update for those who hadn’t seen the earlier episodes as he recounted the deaths of his mother and brother, setting up a serious tale of revenge and retribution à la The Godfather. But after declaring once again that viewers are watching VICEGRIP, it was clear that Michael Bertucci’s story was not going to get much more serious than that.

The tale played out, spinning conventional crime drama characters into amusing parodies of themselves. Kyle (Jess Fildes), the ambitious, cutthroat, hired gun turns into a bumbling fool who just wants to do the right thing. Bill O’Brien (Alex Gauthier), a grizzled police captain returning from a severe injury is now a shell of himself whose sole desire is to shoot a gun—an increasingly desperate attempt to reestablish his authority. The only serious character is the female detective, Lindsay Hardman (also played by Jess Fildes), who can hardly keep a straight face at the sheer absurdity that surrounds her.

After Kyle kills the head of the Russian mob at the orders of Michael, O’Brien, and Hardman are back on the case, heading to the Bertucci household for a round of questioning. Meanwhile, Michael attempts to win the affections of his brother’s widow, Cassie (Eve Majzels). When the cast convenes at the Bertucci’s, it’s clear that there are some absurd plot twists waiting to come into play.

And so begins the second act. Gunshots play with slight delays, throwing the performers into improv mode (“These Russian guns, they never work!”). A plot twist reveals Cassie to be the mastermind behind the Russian mob’s incursion into Bertucci’s territory. A shootout at the Russian’s fortress is scored by an instrumental “Speak Softly Love,” its second appearance in the show. VICEGRIP, bolstered by a very enthusiastic audience, maintained audible laughter throughout much of its runtime, and made sure things didn’t get too heavy.

Overall, the performance was entertaining, and the choice to stray away from serious subjects was welcomed. Clocking in at an hour and a half total, there was never a dull moment thanks to the perfect pacing of the seasoned cast. VICEGRIP is yet another example of the high standard set by Improv Montreal.