THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF COMEDY [ABRIDGED] Theater Review
As its title suggests, The Complete History of Comedy [Abridged] is an incomplete chronicle of what makes people laugh and those jesters who deliberately induce said laughter, from ancient times until today. Starting with a riff on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show monologues telling theatergoers to shut their cells, where the exits are, etc., there is an endless stream of skits, standup, slapstick, one-liners, cream pies, double entendres, in-jokes, topical jibes at those Three-plus Stooges in the Trump regime and much more, as the jaunty Zehra Fazal, Marc Ginsburg and Mark Jacobson bring the annals of amusement to life.
The Complete History of Comedy [Abridged] is an incomplete chronicle of what makes people laugh and those jesters who deliberately induce said laughter, from ancient times until today.
The youthful threesome depict cross-dressing Cro-Magnons; discourse upon commedia dell’arte (which is also currently portrayed in The Actors’ Gang’s Harlequino); present Honest Abe as a standup comic working the crowd (which had the actors asking ticket buyers if it was “too soon?” to joke about Lincoln); mock critics (which caused this reviewer to think, in the immortal words of Curley: “I resemble that remark! Why, I oughtta!!!...”); praise Lucille Ball; lampoon Chekhov with a clever switcheroo; dis unfunny wannabe funnymen like Adam Sandler; hold forth on Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical theories of humor (“paging Dr. Fine!”); and much, much (too much!) more.
My favorite moments included Muppet-like Supreme Court justices poking fun at “puppet governments” and performing a parody medley of Supremes’ song, combined with a Sound of Music spoof as the judges sing: “What do you do with a problem like Scalia?” (Hey, that’s very witty, making fun of NPR’s judicious judiciary reporter Nina “Totenbug”, you court jesters you!) I also enjoyed a clever Keystone Kops/Charlie Chaplin scene that imaginatively used special effects to recreate onstage silent screen comedies. And as a bigly John Steinbeck fan I was amused by the performers’ take on Tom Joad’s farewell speech in The Grapes of Wrath, and there’s good satire involving ventriloquist (and Candice’s dad) Edgar Bergen and Senator Joe (instead of dummy Charlie) McCarthy. You wily wags (and coyotes)!
Unfortunately, playwrights Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor have stuffed so much into this two-act comic cornucopia that some of the puns, physical comedy, endless bodily functions jokes, pratfalls, et al, fall flat. In particular, the dramatists (or, rather, the “comedists”?) have conjured up a conceit which inspires Fazal, Ginsburg and Jacobson to embark on a sort of comedic quest and in doing so, review the record of humanity’s humor. This involves Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, but the breathless play belabored the point so much that it seemed quite contrived and quickly became very tiresome. (Well, they can’t all be winners!)
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Having said that, Fazal, Ginsburg and Jacobson’s comedic characters do make some salient, poignant points about the importance a sense of humor plays in our lives. In doing so, they philosophically indicate how the Arab-Israeli conflict could be resolved (and but of course, what would comedy be without Jews in it? Oy!). Over all, Act II is better, which just goes to prove what Marx (Karl, not Groucho) said: “First time tragedy, second time farce.”
This titanic trio of tittering kibitzers have big futures as actors and comedians ahead of them (as long as they don’t trip over banana peels strewn across their career paths). Director Jerry Kernion keeps the hectic, frantic and frequently funny pace moving along. Overall the 130 audience members laughed throughout the sold out opening night show (especially those singled out by the actors - in the immortal words of Jimmy Durante: “Everybody wants to get into the act!”) and seemed to have a good time on this silly stroll down merry memory laugh lane.
At the lavish reception after the premiere, fans were generously given complimentary copies of the Falcon Theatre’s late founder Garry Marshall’s 1995 book about his life in show biz, Wake Me When It’s Funny. This bio by the director/writer/producer of Happy Days, Pretty Woman, The Princess Diaries, etc., was truly the perfect gift to accompany this specific sidesplitting spectacle. It’s fitting that later on in 2017 the Falcon will be renamed Garry Marshall Theatre. That will surely be a happy day and I second that emotion!
The Complete History of Comedy [Abridged] is being performed Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and on Sundays at 4:00 p.m. through April 23 at the Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank, CA 91505. For more info: (818)955-8101; www.FalconTheatre.com.
Film historian/reviewer Ed Rampell is co-presenting Esther Shub’s documentary The Fall of the Romanovs on Friday, 7:30 p.m., April 28, 2017 at The L.A. Workers Center, 1251 S. St. Andrews Place, L.A., CA 90019. This is part of the ongoing “Ten Films That Shook the World” series celebrating the centennial of the Russian Revolution, taking place on the fourth Friday of each month through November. For info: firstname.lastname@example.org.