The Black Version,” a Los Angeles-based group of writers, actors and producers, has a huge fan base in the DMV and it’s easy to understand why.
As improvisational performers, the ensemble takes simple ideas and raises the bar, bringing its audiences to constant rounds of laughter.
The group, whose members include Jordan Black, Niyma Frank, Daniele Gaither, Phil LaMarr and Gary Anthony Williams, recently performed a completely improvised show at the Kennedy Center in Northwest.
“I’ve been doing improv forever,” said Black, the founder of the ensemble. “What you learn pretty quickly in the improv world, as a person of color is you are usually the only one. Over the years, I started meeting other people of color in improv.”
Black said encountering other Black performers in the improv world meant “it was on and expect things to start poppin.’”
At the Kennedy Center, things got poppin’ when the troupe requested movie titles that they turn into a “Black” version. Karen Maruyama, the group’s director, has an integral part in guiding the show. She collects audience film ideas, leading to a popular movie title for the ensemble to act out. The winning title was “Mommy Dearest,” based on the book and movie describing the experiences- sometimes abusive ones- endured by Joan Crawford’s adopted children, Christopher and Christina. “Oh, Mama Come On!” was “The Black Version’s” remixed title.
On the spot, Maruyama organized each scene for “Oh Mama Come On!” The troupe came up with a mother with two children, working as a DJ, a housekeeper/child sitter, suitors and a manager. Each segment of this new movie was unimaginable before seeing it unfold before our eyes. Belly-aching laughter served as a great way to spend an evening.
“The Black Version” remains successful because each member has achieved individual success in their careers.
Black counts as a former writer for “Saturday Night Live” and “The Last OG.” He’s currently a writer/producer on the reboot of “The Wonder Years” on ABC. Funk’s credits include “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and “Key & Peele.” The versatile Gaither has credits from “Mad TV” and “Bob’s Burgers.” LaMarr, another “Mad TV” cast member, also serves as the voice of Samurai Jack on “Justice League.” Williams’ film credits include the newly-released “Block Party,” “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” and “Undercover Brother.” Maruyama, besides currently on the directing faculty at the American Film Institute, acted in the show “Shameless.”
Talented players come in and out of “The Black Version.” That’s because this crew never stops working.
Keep up with “The Black Version” through their website www.theblackversion.com or on Twitter and Instagram: @theblackversion
Brenda C. Siler is on Twitter and Instagram: @bcscoomm