by Julia Steele
It’s Friday night in Honolulu, and in a small theater, audience members are shouting out words: Parasailing. Fax machines. The Pali Highway. Onstage, The Loose Screws, Honolulu’s longest-running improv group, takes the random suggestions and spins them into sharp-witted comedy. "Name a food you eat every day," group MC R. Kevin Doyle asks the crowd. "Avocado," someone yells from the back row, and before your eyes comes the story of Avocado Boy and his trip to Cheese-Topping Island. The pace is fast: the bell dings, the scene changes. Someone who was a vacuum cleaner seconds ago becomes an aging James Brown and then a hapless termite exterminator. Accents switch from Scottish to Japanese to Swahili—or at least an attempt at Swahili.
photo by Sergio Goes
Through it all, the members of the troupe display what they’re justly famed for: creativity, speed, intelligence and a willingness to go way out on a limb. Despite the freewheeling behavior their name suggests, the Loose Screws do not screw around with their mission to crack people up. "We take it seriously," says Doyle, "support each other, make sure our bodies and voices are ready." The group grew out of a late ’80s improv workshop at the University of Hawaii and went on to a steady but ultimately short-lived gig at the now-closed Lizard Loft. For the last decade, they have performed at spots about town. The worst? A strip club. The most humiliating? A craft fair. The best? Their monthly gig at Wards Rafters, which they’ve had since 1994. Their biggest? The Chicago Improv Fest where they performed last April.
Doyle is the only original Loose Screw left. Ask him why he does improv and with a laugh he quotes Laurence Olivier on the definition of acting: "Look at me, look at me, look at me." More seriously, he says, "If we can make people forget their problems for a couple of hours, we’re performing a service." He rattles off characteristics of some of the players–Robb Bonnell does the most intense character work, Sean O’Malley makes the quirkiest choices, Christopher Obenchain dives into everything with "absolutely no fear." Given the Islands’ makeup, he says, Loose Screws is much more diverse than the average troupe, but all players agree on one thing: "The joy of improv is in the discovery."