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Spirit, the new show from the British troupe Improbable, is a toy, assembled nightly. Its parts include a steep ramp full of hatches, a variety of dolls and airplanes, some cleverly deployed dinner rolls, and three more or less grown men. There’s a story of sorts, about how the youngest of three brothers fights and gets killed in a war. And there are compelling interruptions, like speeches by the actors about their fathers’ deaths, and play breaks with little figurines, which are like Terry Gilliam’s nonsensical Monty Python animations.

But the evening’s real charm lies in its spontaneity, the sense that Lee Simpson, Phelim McDermott, and Guy Dartnell might say or do anything, at any time. The ad hoc vibe doesn’t make Spirit as satisfying as the company’s topmost work, the dementedly brilliant Shockheaded Peter, though it still has its moments. On the night I saw the show, a bluebottle fly briefly upstaged everybody, quite a remarkable piece of serendipity in a show about flying—a point the actors did not neglect to make. Even without those happy accidents, there is a real thrill to a kind of theater in which no one—not even the actors—is quite sure what will happen next. It’s why we love guitar solos and drum breaks and baseball.

New York Theatre Workshop
Through October 9


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