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New York improv groups head to the Chicago Improv Festival

We check out four NYC teams en route to the Chicago Improv Festival.

1/4

The Cascade
(Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N Southport Ave; April 29 at 7pm, $15)

Duo Rick Andrews and Jennifer Dunne have a compelling form on their hands. Based on an audience suggestion, they explore parallel realities of a single relationship. During my visit, for example, the suggested phrase �breathe deep and relax� turned into a recurring scene between a therapist and his patient. In truth, this was a bit twee, and I would�ve liked to have seen more raising of stakes as the scene repeated itself. Still, this duo played it smart and patient, and I�d watch them again.

2/4

Chet Watkins
(Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N Southport Ave; April 29 at 10pm, $15)

These long-form practitioners have a secret weapon: fearless women. The men aren�t half bad either (especially the woolly and magnificent Christian Paluck), but I marveled at how the ladies (including former Second City e.t.c. ensemble member Laura Grey) tackled each scene with bawdy abandon. Based on the suggestion of popcorn, this sextet gave us a travel agent with a dial-up computer (hilarious), a couple shopping for gourmet meats and a finale that brought back characters from previous scenes. All in all, impressive.

3/4

FACE Theatre
(The Second City Skybox, 1618 N Wells St, fourth floor; April 29 at 11pm, $15 )

Music informed the action and vice versa in an experimental night of improv in which actors and musicians took the cue from one another to create scenes that included a redneck in love, squirrels in a forest and an old-timey Italian restaurant.

It�s awesome to hear instrumentation besides a piano, and the musicians rotate frequently (including new ones in Chicago). Also, this group embraced the entirety of the stage in a big way and offered solid callbacks. However, narratives are often non-linear and don�t necessarily pay off in big laughs. If you�ve got the patience to sit through experimental theater, this might be music to your ears.

4/4

Hello Laser
(The Second City DeMaat Theater, 1618 N Wells St, third floor, April 30 at 7pm, $15 )

This quartet of goofs is a C.I.F. visiting favorite and, having now witnessed them on home turf, it�s easy to see why. Based on the suggestion of �moving,� these guys effortlessly created a strong beginning in which two dudes ditch their middle-aged and deadbeat roommate. With exacting attention to detail, they took us on awesome tangents and scenes within scenes that included a scheming bar manager, a private dick traipsing around Harlem and hilarious callbacks to stolen cats and Myspace. If the C.I.F. were a competition, we know where we�d place our bets.

The Chicago Improv Festival kicks off Monday 25.

Relax your second city angst. Better things aren’t always happening in New York. My experience with Gotham improv both past and present reveals little comparison to our historic, ubiquitous and entrenched scene. Still, I can’t deny that a recent weekend in the Big Apple revealed a quartet of interesting teams en route to the Heartland for the 14th annual Chicago Improv Festival kicking off Monday 25 at venues around town. Keep an eye out for:

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