Todd Houseman and Ben Gorodetsky brings together Cree storytelling, Chekhovian character drama and spontaneous comedy in Folk Lordz at this year's Chutzpah! Festival
Todd Houseman and Ben Gorodetsky in Folk Lordz at this year's Chutzpah! Festival

In Folk Lordz, Edmonton’s Ben Gorodetsky and Todd Houseman improvise three stories. The first based on Cree origin myths, the second as a Chekhovian character drama, and a third genre determined by the audience. The show falls short of its potential though, not in the quality of the performance, but by neglecting to pull its tripartite tale together.

The first thread followed the origin story of “Why Raven is so wise”. The most physical of the three tales, it saw the improvisors stacked on top of one another like totem poles and wrapped together on the floor. The story included ideas such as why bears hibernate in the winter, and why the wind blows so hard, but it ultimately lacked a true north. The initial suggestion of Raven’s wisdom was almost an afterthought.

The second thread saw the pair pull a piece of Chekhovian character drama out of the suggestion of “not showing up to the prom”. A servant tries to protect his old master while the master’s unwillingness to connect to reality and communicate with those around him devolves into a lonely walk to an empty chapel. The pathos is real, and the relationship to Chekhov is clear. It was by far the most successful thread.

The third tale forced the duo to create a sci-fi horror film featuring an amorous octopus and her robot love seeding the future of their race into the belly of their untimely captain. It was fast, physical and silly as all hell. The biggest laughs were garnered here and the audience loved it.

The transitions were smooth and interesting, the jokes were quick and original, and the physicality was filled with energy and bombast. Houseman’s physical strength and grounded emotion provided a perfect counterpoint to Gorodetsky’s more chaotic physical energy. But was it a great show? It could be.

Each thread, on its own, was fascinating and entertaining. Despite weaving the three together though very little cross-pollination occurred and merely provided distraction between one thread and the others. To work effectively, the lines between threads needed to blur and bend and even break, allowing the creation to come to one solitary conclusion that rippled across three disparate genres. Without the convergence, it was an impressive feat of narrative know-how, improvisational skill, but lacked a final flourish to pull it all together.

While Folk Lordz offers an entertaining mish-mash of styles, it lacks a clear through-line as to why we need to see these them juxtaposed against one another. It has the potential to say something about storytelling in a way that only improv can, but falls short. But each improv show is different. Maybe next time Folk Lordz will make that leap.

Folk Lordz improvised by Todd Houseman and Ben Gorodetsky. Presented as part of the 2017 Chutzpah! Festival. No further performances scheduled. Visit for more information.

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