I saw this poster hanging in a coffee shop a few weeks ago.

“Interesting,” I thought.  Then I tried to imagine what Woody Allen improv would look like.

Neurotic hand-wringing?

Nervous philosophizing?


I was sufficiently intrigued.

But the discovery coincided with a book I’m reading right now — Diane Keaton’s memoir. They were a thing for a while, Woody and Diane, and though they were broken up during the making of Annie Hall, they stayed best friends.

So we met our friends Justin and Amanda in Hideout’s lobby on Saturday night, and walked upstairs to their tiny theater.

Now when I say tiny, I mean tiny.  The Hideout’s upstairs theater seats about 40 people max, maybe 50, and if you sit in the front row, you can almost reach out and touch the actors. Which may have happened last summer, back when the Hideout was doing naked improv.

As Ross walked up the to his seat, a blind man followed behind him. He sat across the aisle from Ross with his cane, and settled into his seat as old Woody Allen trailers played on a small screen overhead.

“It’s my third favorite of Woody Allen’s European travelogue movies,” I proclaimed loudly to my company about To Rome, With Love, making Ross internally wish I was using my inside voice.

It was true, though, and something I apparently felt very passionately about. Midnight in Paris was sweet and nostalgic; Vicki, Christina, Barcelona sexy and funny; To Rome, With Love very beautiful but a little … off. “At times I felt it was miscast, and other times I wished he had picked just two or three little vignettes to focus on rather than all four, and Rome is really much grittier than all that, and, and –” fortunately for my friends, I was blessedly cut off by the theater’s dimming lights.

As the stage lights came up, “Woody” entered the stage, and gave us a bespectacled little monologue. What we were about to see was entirely made up on the spot, with characters as new to the actors as they were to us. I felt nervous for them, because of all the theater in this world to perform, improv just seems so terribly difficult. But I held my breath, and watched as eight actors entered the stage.

You know that feeling you have when you watch floor gymnastics during the Olympics?  That “whoa, I could never do that” feeling?  That’s how I felt as everyone got started.

“How — how did he know to say that?”

“How did she make that up on the spot?”

Also like the Olympics, I braced myself for somebody to fail, to fall off the balance beam so to speak, and elicit a concerned, collective, “oooh,” from the audience.

But everybody just marched along with their unscripted antics, developing out their spontaneous characters from one scene to the next. They cast an invisible New York net around their stories, with artists and tiny apartments and deli eating, and before we knew it, a plot line had emerged: Tonya, a flighty Annie Hall-esque gal, found herself caught in a love triangle between Charlie, the arrogant painter; Richard, her college boyfriend, and her old driver’s ed instructor-turned-doctor. (Which I guess makes it more of a love rhombus.)

The blind man next to Ross pounded his cane in appreciation, and I had to hang onto Ross’s arm at times because I was laughing so hard at the story. When we walked out of the theater, the cast lined up in the coffee shop lobby to say goodbye to everyone, and I gushed all over my actor Olympians. “That was AMAZING!  Like … oh my GOD!  How long did you rehearse that?  WOW! INCREDIBLE!  Just INCREDIBLE!”

Inside voice,” Ross whispered, and nudged me toward the front door.

Manhattan Stories plays every Saturday at the Hideout through July and August at 8pm, and if you’re a Woody Allen fan, I highly recommend going. It’s a brand new show every time.

What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?  Hard to believe there are almost 50 to choose from, huh?

MOVIE STILLS // Annie Hall, Manhattan, Everyone Says I Love You, To Rome, With Love.