‘The No Rules Show’ puckishly tweaks the TV talk show format

Jason Hornick - Host Joshua Morgan (left) gets cozy with guests Laura Zam and Ron Litman during the first preview of “The No Rules Show” at Signature Theatre.

A late night-style chat show is only as good as its guests, so the random factor is extremely high for No Rules Theatre’s “The No Rules Show.”

Wednesday’s entertainers on the intimate Ark stage at Signature Theatre included a comedy improv troupe and lip-syncing to “Pippin.” An hour into the 80-minute show, the audience grew antsy.

(Jason Hornick) - The guests and audience are posed by playwright Joshua Morgan in “The No Rules Show” at Signature Theatre.

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Still, you could see how on another night this grab bag might fly — maybe Sunday’s closer for this two-week stand, when a food editor and a magician are scheduled to appear, or Saturday, when two singers and a burlesque artist are slated, along with irrepressible host Joshua Morgan’s mom.

Morgan is a natural host, and he’s terrific at the Judy Garland-Johnny Carson-Conan O’Brien mode that he and director Brian Sutow have co-opted. (Morgan and Sutow are the co-artistic directors of No Rules.) Morgan enters hugging and kissing members of the audience, and then, just so you know the evening will puckishly tweak the talk show format, Morgan delivers an opening monologue that isn’t a string of one liners — it’s actually a dramatic monologue.

Morgan sings and plays piano, crooning the Burt Bacharach-Hal David “A House is Not a Home” Wednesday before recruiting audience volunteers for a brief game show. He’s so loose and chatty (and genuine, not schmaltzy or ironic) that people — like the young woman wearing what she called her sparkly “little gay man shoes” that Morgan admired — seem to relax with him, even though the gleefully cheeky Morgan declared that people sometimes find him scary.

Maybe he kept himself slightly in check on this night, although you wouldn’t have thought so as the Sauvignon Blanc flowed for Morgan – stationed, of course, in a chair behind a desk – and his guests on the obligatory couch. His interviewing style is breezy and generous, yet things inevitably grew public-service-y with guests from Capital Pride, and wonky as seven members of Washington Improv Theatre crowded the couch and gravely explained how they make up stuff on the fly. (One of their way-out improvised bits turned into Orpheus as a baker who burns customers with lit cigarettes, which becomes a trendy thing.)

But of course that’s what chat shows are for: to spread the spotlight as a variety of people plug their own shows and causes. It’s a rule that “No Rules” seems content to follow.

The No Rules Show

created by Joshua Morgan and Brian Sutow. Hosted by Joshua Morgan. Directed by Brian Sutow. About 80 minutes. Through Sunday at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Shirlington. Call 703-820-9771 or visit norulestheatre.org

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