Theater Review - Hoop dreams

You don’t have to know the difference between basketball player Kobe Bryant and Kobe steaks to get a lift from The Kobe Bryant Project at Dad’s Garage Theatre. Although the improv show casts the L.A. Laker (played by Spencer G. Stephens) as its leading man, it plays less like an NBA tribute than a match-up between a John Hughes movie and corny TV sitcom.

Conceived and directed by Christian Danley long before Bryant’s current sex scandals, the show imagines what would happen if the L.A. Laker died on the basketball court. The first scene finds Bryant standing at the pearly gates, represented by a no-budget cardboard backdrop that resembles an oversized three-ring binder — the cast turns the “pages” for set changes.

Bryant learns that he can only get into heaven if he gives coolness lessons to a nerdy high schooler (played by Tim Stoltenberg through July 12 and Rene Dellefont in subsequent shows). Kobe’s opening night featured plenty of amusing off-the-cuff gags in the pairing of NBA superstar and teenage uber-geek. After Stoltenberg caught a basketball in the groin, the actor slid a schoolbook down his pants for protection.

Improv shows are at their best when actors play off such happy accidents or blurt lines that make no sense. The show’s funniest, strangest exchange came when Amber Nash’s lovable tomboy oddly asked the kindly janitor (Tommy W. Futch) if they can spend time together at that night’s school dance. Futch dryly suggested, “Well, there is the special School Employee-Student dance ...” As an improvised play with no written lines, just a loosely outlined plot, Kobe Bryant may polish its dialogue with repeat performances, but the comedic airballs can lead to more laughs than the three-point shots.

Kobe lasts about 45 minutes, which is just short enough to keep the premise from getting stale. But with the show starting at 12:30 a.m. on weekend nights, it’s more of a nightcap than something to hang your whole evening on. Unless you’ve got a serious basketball jones.

The Kobe Bryant Project plays through July 26 at Dad’s Garage Theatre Company, 280 Elizabeth St. Fri.-Sat. 12:30 a.m. Tickets free-$5, depending on the roll of a die. 404-523-3141.