Oh, what fun to see an improv troupe create a two-act drama in the style of a Jane Austen novel, inspired on the night I attended by the audience suggestion "snails." The show is never the same, though co-director Dan O'Connor did say the company has rehearsed an English country dance that is sometimes plugged in, sometimes is not. And there are, of course, constant characters the company taps into, depending on who's available on any given night. On the night I saw the show, 11 first-rate comedians performed. O'Connor portrayed Mr. Dawson, a highly reputable fellow engaged in a snarky and pointless dispute with Miss Amelia Green (the charming Jo McGinley). Much of the plot concerns the ability of these two porcupines to find love -- in a Regency English style no less, encumbered by tightly fitting corsets, dinner jackets and ties. Among the moments of high tension was when Amelia's father (Floyd Van Buskirk) found the prickly lovebirds unescorted in a parlor room, sparking a scandal. There were also gorgeous cameos by Stephen Kearin as the genteel, horse-faced Mr. Robert Walker, and by Lauren Lewis as Amelia's delightfully birdbrained sister, Rebecca. When an audience member's cell phone triggered a whining sound over the speakers, it inspired a spontaneous subplot about a swarm of invading bees, and some controversy over whether or not it was decent of Mr. Walker to cure Rebecca's bee sting by slopping mud on her bare arm. Aside from its breathtaking wit, the show reveals the codes of behavior that accrue into an acting style, and even a social style. This is a comedy about essence rather than substance, revealing how one is so often confused with the other. If there is such a thing as humane comedy, this would be it. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Feb. 15. (323) 960-7753. An Impro Theatre production.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Starts: Jan. 9. Continues through Feb. 15, 2009