How Do Ya Like Them Apples? ComedySportz's Adept Late-Night Improv

The setup: ComedySportz, known for two decades for its 8 p.m. improv shows, this year added a Saturday show at 10:30 p.m. and has recently added a 10:30 show on Friday evenings as well. The Friday event is produced by ComedySportz, but the performers are AMPERSAND, a six-person troupe that specializes in long-form improv, where a single audience inspiration is expanded into a 50-minute exploration that can go in any direction -- and does.

The execution: These performers are good, very good, and about as varied in appearance as they could be. It's five guys and a babe - the babe is the beauteous Claire O'Malley, and the guys are the thinly built guy Saurabh Pande, the heavy-set guy Chad Minchew, the shaven-head guy Will Fordyce, the curly-headed guy Kelly Harkins and the tall, slender guy Ben Mattice. I developed a fondness for them all, but the curly-headed guy won my heart because of a brilliant fall to the floor when his imaginary brace was removed because a buddy told him it was getting in the way of scoring -- yes, the events are for 17 and older only.

Pande was consistently inventive, with a touching, wide-eyed naivete not quite hiding a raunchy persona. Minchew had a stentorian voice and a quick wit and moved very fast -- but then so did they all, as bodies hurtled across the stage like Roman candles on the Fourth of July. Fordyce, despite the Telly Savalas look, played sweeter characters effectively. Mattice had a wonderfully expressive face and some tall kicks that would make Ray Bolger envious.

The single inspiration from the audience was "apple," and this led from scientifically engendered fruit that creates mutants to Gay and Lesbian Day at an apple-picking orchard to cyberspace (don't ask). O'Malley was great as the mother, furious at her 12-year-old son because he refused to pick up hookers like his brother. Be careful about sitting in the front row, as a beautiful brunette patron who sat close was paraded across the stage as the hooker. A good cop/bad cop routine worked well, and gained brilliance as simultaneously a foster kid kept smearing the windows of the police station while a window-cleaner was at work. There's much more, it's very fast, and the performers know that body language is as important as verbal sallies -- they are adept at both.

The verdict: AMPERSAND is a most-welcome Friday-night addition to Houston's late-night entertainment scene. If humor is your thing, ComedySportz Arena is the place to find it. Ongoing Fridays at 10:30, ComedySportz at other times, at ComedySportz Arena, 901 Town & Country Blvd., 713-868-1444.

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