Sunday, September 28, 2014

Theater Review: Comedy is Hard -- Ivoryton

Micky Dolenz and Joyce DeWitt. Photo: Rosemary Picarelli
Comedy is Hard, but CT Native Mike Reiss Has a Handle on It
By Lauren Yarger
Two long-time retired performers roll their wheelchairs up for a view at the Brooklyn Bridge and an unexpected curtain goes up on an exciting second act in their lives, starring friendship and possible romance. Welcome to Comedy is Hard from Connecticut native Mike Reiss, getting its world premiere at Ivoryton Playhouse.

Reiss, a writer and producer for “The Simpsons,” “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” Horton Hears a Who!” and other Hollywood scripts was last represented on stage in his home state with “I’m Connecticut,” which premiered at CT Repertory Theatre in 2012 (starring Joyce DeWitt). It subsequently had a run at Ivoryton, directed by Playhouse Artistic Director Jacqueline Hubbard, who helms Comedy is Hard.

Dewitt, who is most known for her role on the TV sitcom “Three’s Company” has been tapped to star again in Reiss’s premiere, this time opposite Mickey Dolenz, whom you will remember from the popular music group The Monkees. Both give engaging performances, even if the play itself would be sharpened by a bit of trimming.

DeWitt is Kay, a former Broadway actress, who now lives in the actor’s home. Her nurse, Valentina (Dorian Mendez), doesn’t speak much English and infuriates her charge with responding to every request with, “Kay?” Does she mean OK, “why, in Spanish, or is she calling Kay by name? Frustrated Kay will never know. And doesn’t really want to.

One day in a Manhattan park, she meets up with Lou (Dolenz), who is wheeled to the park by his rude son, Phil (Michael McDermott), with whom he lives. The two get to talking and Kay invites Lou, a former comedian, to move into the actor’s home. It’s an escape his son’s disapproval and from being a burden on him and his family. (Dan Nischan’s nifty folding set cleverly and repeatedly transforms between the two locations.)

There are a couple of comedic characters thrown in with whom they interact: A Homeless Man (Michael Hotkowski) whom Kay encourages to return to acting and Mr. Holroyd (an amusing Dan Coyle), a seemingly unaware resident of the home who strikes furniture-like poses, but who has moments of lucidity and comments on the action taking place around him to the audience.

Kay, more serious and annoyed by constant comparisons to rival Angela Lansbury, and Lou, always ready with a joke and his tag line, “Hey…. That’s comedy!,” are the embodiments of the comedy and drama masks, with Lou claiming that drama is easy, but comedy is hard. They prove to be good foils for each other and hatch a plan to put on a show for folks in the nursing home and community. The drama of choice? Becket’s Waiting for Godot, starring Mr. Holroyd as the tree….

There’s a problem however. Lou’s past insecurities, particularly a bad run in front of an audience that was not receptive to his comedy routine, leave him with a bad case of stage fright. Will he be able to perform and finally impress Phil, who still is resentful of growing up with an absentee father who was on the road playing comedy clubs?

If you’re a good entertainer, Lou confides in Kay, you’re a bad parent because you have put everything you have into performing to earn a living for you family. The problem is you don’t have anything left to give when you return home.

“Somebody changed the rules about what it is to be a good father,” Kay comforts.

Moments of poignancy like this help balance a script that seems always to be trying just a bit too hard to find its next laugh.

DeWitt and Dolenz have sizzling on-stage chemistry. A fake texting bit between the two old timers is a hoot and had the audience in stitches. There are a lot of belly laughs too – and this Waiting for Godot should win an award for giving what normally is one of the most boring plays known to man an entertaining and hilarious staging. Coyle also is equally entertaining while striking a pose or waxing eloquent, but we are confused about whether Mr. Holroyd’s commentary is audible to the other characters or whether it is just what he’s thinking.


The script tends to wander a bit too long, even at just over two hours with an intermission. A 90-minute, trimmed version giving us a bit deeper glimpse behind the comedy and drama masks the characters wear would improve the story. First trim suggestion: Cut the distracting and unnecessary projections (Gaylen Ferstand, design).

Comedy is Hard runs through Oct. 12 at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton.  Performances are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30, Friday and Saturday at 8. Tickets: $42 for adults, $37 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children. (860) 767-7318; www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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