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'Motley' Crew - MPIII serves up laughs, improv style

The Motley Players III at the Blackbox Theater in Plano, Texas.
The Motley Players III at the Blackbox Theater in Plano, Texas.
photo by Tim Klein

Comedy audiences are a die-hard bunch, a bit like mailmen in their enthusiasm – “neither rain, nor snow, nor death of night can keep us from our duty.” And on this rainy January night, it was no different. The quaint Blackbox Theater in Plano, Texas, (also known as the Plano Community Theater), was packed with fans and soon-to-be admirers, all with one thing in common – their love of improv, and the Motley Players III.

The Motley Players III, or MPIII, was originally formed by three men – Dave Pakalnis, Brian “Beavis” Graef and Rob Gonzo. If you’re a Scarborough Faire fan, you may have seen these guys – they are the ones who let you throw water balloons in their general direction while they are onstage. A sense of humor is a must when allowing people to hurl objects at you. They have added several ensemble players to their cast since its inception. Those performing in this show included the three original members, with Dave acting as host and emcee; and cast members Patrick Haughton, Jill Headen, Bill McCurry, and Roxanne Murray Penz.

The biggest difference between improv and stand-up? Improv is completely unscripted, and totally based on audience suggestions – as opposed to stand-up, which is written and rehearsed repeatedly, and hecklers are very much discouraged. Audiences who want to yell things at the performers will get their chance at an MPIII show, however, when the emcee asks for suggestions. The players then take the words or phrases and build scenes around them.

Think “Whose Line is it Anyway?” meets Shakespeare.

The audience contained people of all ages, from children to grandparents. The suggestions were, at times, racy, but the players ran with them easily. The MPIII group does a combination of short form and long form improv games and scenes.

One of the best games of the evening was a long form scene which revolved around the suggestion ‘linguist’. The idea is that someone in the cast will be inspired to share a true story relating to the suggestion, and the other players create a scene based on their interpretation of that event. Jill jumped out and gave a very true, very bizarre monologue inspired from the definition of the Latin base of linguistics: "lingua" - literally "tongue"- about her brothers, who loved to chase her with a partially-thawed cow tongue when she was a little girl. The scenes that came out of this suggestion were hilarious, organic and true works of art. Each of the cast members did a great job in bringing the suggestion full-circle.

There were many funny moments throughout the show, from one of the players becoming Donald Trump’s hair, to a hillbilly family with a strong dislike of the French. They ended the show with a game called “World’s Worst”, in which players jump out and invoke the worst person of a suggested profession. When ‘professor’ was suggested, Bill stepped up with the following: “Welcome to ethics class. No one will get an ‘A’ unless they blow me.”

With this group, it’s a lot like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. But it will be tasty, perhaps even with a gooey center. You can see MPIII on February 19 at The Blackbox Theater in Plano. Tickets are available on their website.  They will also be back at Scarborough Faire this spring for yet another run, which promises to be a huge success. They are available for corporate and private events of all kinds - clean enough for a church group, bawdy enough for a bachelor party.


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