The Improv and Sketch Invasion featuring The Village Theatre, Fraidy Cat, and Big Dicktionary

When: Fri., Jan. 20, 7:30 p.m. and Sat., Jan. 21, 9:30 p.m. 2012

Fraidy Cat, Big Dicktionary, and Village Theatre

This trio of acts couldn't be more different, but they do have one thing in common: They all tend to rely on props to get their shows going, whether it's a cardboard tube, an oversized dictionary, or a few friends.

Fraidy Cat

Meghan O'Neill, writer and star of the one-woman act Fraidy Cat, is a little nervous about doing a solo show. So nervous, in fact, that she usually starts it with two other actors joining her onstage. Their job is to ease her into performing solo, gradually fading into the background as she gains confidence over the course of her episodic rambling.

"The me that I appear as is like a very exaggerated version of who I actually am in real life," O'Neill says. Yes, she really is fascinated by Zooey Deschanel. Yes, she really did start doing the show at the suggestion of a boyfriend who offered to direct it and then broke up with her. Yes, another boyfriend really did break up with her on her 27th birthday.

"It's brutal, right?" she says. "But I have a wonderful sketch as a result of that."

Such is O'Neill's endlessly introspective meta-play, a hybrid sketch-comedy/one-person act that she compares to "Suri Cruise with less cult ties."

For her Charleston appearance, O'Neill will do something she has only attempted once before: a true one-person show, sans supporting cast. Try not to scare her off.

Big Dicktionary

John Brennan and Timmy Finch both cut their teeth in improvisational comedy at Theatre 99. In 2003, the two started doing a live show where they picked a word at random from a big ol' dictionary and riffed on it in any way possible.

These days, Brennan lives in New York City, where he works in an off-Broadway production and performs his one-man show The Banana Monologues. Finch, a founding member of Theatre 99, is in Charleston, where he is now licensed to practice law. Times have changed, but Big Dicktionary remains a fixture in both men's lives.

Distance has not hampered their chemistry, Brennan insists. If anything, he says the major life changes have made the two performers sharper than ever, and when they reunite onstage, the results are still outrageous.

"Through performing, it's almost like our small talk," Brennan says.

The Village Theatre

The Atlanta-based improv group Village Theatre only ever uses one prop, and it is considered a member of the cast. It is a cardboard tube from a carpet roll, and it has its own Facebook profile and Twitter account.

"It's kind of a misanthrope, but it's our only prop," says Blair Holden, one of the 17 human cast members. The prop has played many roles in its career: cigar, needle, pasta, bong.

A night with the Village Theatre can run the gamut, too, alternating between long- and short-form improv based on audience input. "It's very impersonation-heavy, very dialect-heavy," Holden says. "It's very physical, with lots of torturous positions we like to put ourselves in."

Of course, the prop has been used as a phallus. Very little is off-limits in the show.

"With all of our actors, no one is afraid to go there," Holden says. "It's not forced, but there is a shocking moment every once in a while, and there's no apologies for it."

Paul Bowers

Price: $12.50

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