Every Friday night this month, the Coalition Theater presents a new episode of Improvised Friends, in which six Richmond improv comics bring the legendary sitcom to life before your very eyes.
In celebration of the classic 90s sitcom’s 25th anniversary, The Coalition Theater is presenting Friends in a never-before-seen manner: improv! Every Friday night beginning January 3 and running through February 28, a group of six Coalition performers play the cast of Friends and take audience suggestions to create new episodes of the show.
Improvised Friends is directed by massive Friends fan Maura Mazurowski and produced by Beau Cribbs. Each performance is completely new and unique, since the performers take audience suggestions and build the plot around something different every time.
To help the performers get into character and to help them understand who they were supposed to be, at the start of the run Mazurowski gave them all specific episodes of the original show to watch.
“I grew up watching the show and I can quote almost every episode,” she said. “If I ever feel lost in a scene, I’ll try and root myself in the characteristics of my character, Monica, and think about what she would have done on the show if she was in this situation.”
Even though the Coalition cast does not completely resemble the original cast in a physical sense, several of the performers use wigs to help more effectively evoke the original characters. However, Mazurowski thinks that the connection to original Friends goes deeper than physical similarities.
“We might not resemble the cast physically, but we definitely all have some characteristics that shine through, and make us feel connected to our characters,” she said.
Improvised Friends follows a similar format to the beloved sitcom. Each performance opens at the characters’ beloved Central Perk, and there are two storylines that overlap throughout the show. Mazurowski believes that even though some of the performances have gotten crazy, they stay true to the show and the 90s.
“The fun of improv is stepping out of reality and pushing the bounds of reality. We’ve had a few guest stars, like Janice and Gunther from the show,” she said. “We aren’t making up any new character traits, but we do have some room to give the performers some leeway over who they are on stage, and create their own versions while staying true to the original cast.”
This event is the first time that the cast is working together on the same show, but Mazurowski believes that the six of them work together flawlessly.
“I am so lucky to perform with these people,” she said. “They are so funny and so talented, and I think the audience has been enjoying us too. I don’t get nervous when I’m improvising with my friends, because there is a certain comfortability and I know that they will support me on stage, and I trust them.”
For the Friends superfans out there, we must unfortunately note that “neither the Chick nor the Duck will be featured in this run of performances due to an ongoing contract dispute with the Coalition Theater,” according to Coalition’s website. However, whether you’re a casual fan or a diehard Friends scholar, Improvised Friends never fails to feel like you are sitting on the couch, watching an episode of Friends that you’ve somehow never seen before.
You can catch the show at Coalition Theater, located at 8 W. Broad St, every Friday night through February 28. The final performance on the 28th will be a “dramatic cliffhanger of a season finale” according to the website, so prepare yourself. Tickets for the show are $10 and available on Coalition Theater’s website.
Photos courtesy Maura Mazurowski/Improvised Friends