Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Raven (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Thinking of Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven, images of a single actor in black reciting meter with sonorous tones spring naturally to mind. But this being a production by Zombie Joe, I felt confident something quite different was in store.

And I was right!

First, the performance piece (a more precise descriptor that "play" in this instance) consists not only of Poe's most famous poem but also one of his so called "lesser" short stories.  "The Oval Portrait" lacks a direct plot per se, at least in the same way as other works by America's first great poet. It feels much more like the kind of anecdote shared by candlelight, a weird event that sends subtle shivers up one's spine. Which more or less is precisely how Zombie (who directed) does it.

In the dark, single points of light appear. Like candles. And faces appear one at a time (at first) to recite the story word for word, about a man taking shelter in a storm and finding the painting of the title. More, he finds a book that tells the history of that work of art's creation. By the time (some) lights come up, we're deep in the experience of the tale and the ensemble way of its telling.

Several of the cast I've seen before. Indeed, I saw only two faces in the Chorus (for lack of a better word) unfamiliar: Katie Lynn Mapel is a tall brunette with a very expressive face. Tim McCord is an older, thin gentleman with a subtle but firm stage presence and compelling eyes. Oriko Ikeda (also seen in Rebublic County) and the rest of the ensemble virtually re-enacts "The Oval Portrait" (a story a little bit more creepy and tragic when you look at Poe's actual life) as something akin to dance. In retrospect, it made me want to see Zombie direct a Greek Tragedy in much the same way. But I digress.
Photo Credit: Zombie Joe

The second qualifier I have about the show is a musical interlude between "The Oval Portrait" and a similar rendition of "The Raven." Here I want to make clear Christopher Reiner's music itself is quite good as was his performance of it. But it felt as if it went on too long, and my own belief soon arose that the cast were all making some major costume and make-up changes backstage (I was right). Given that the first piece united voice, movement and music so well, getting just music alone for as long as we did interrupted the flow. Somewhat. My own suspicion--some kind of visual element seems needed at that point. A dancer maybe? Let me be clear--I liked the music but in context it felt as if the show stumbled here for just a minute or two. Given the experimental nature of the piece--overall a very successful one, at least so it seemed to me--perhaps Zombie might mount a different version some other season? As he does Urban Death and Attack of the Rotting Corpses? A thought, anyway.

I've one other point to make about the talented Mr. Reiner, but if I make it at this moment it assumes too much importance. (See what I mean about context and rhythm?)

Let me turn instead to "The Raven" portion of The Raven. Again, done as an ensemble dance/recitation by the entire company and (as suspected) with a startling array of costumes and make-ups. I've seen many and many a reading of this poem, from Vincent Price to Christopher Walken to The Simpsons and Christopher Lee, but this is now officially one of my favorite versions! Everyone did their jobs very well, but the two who kept my attention most were Sebastian Munoz and Donna Noelle Ibale. The whole cast (including Redetha Deason) did a fine job but they were the standouts in this section, not least because they seemed to more or less represent the narrator and title character respectively. In particular--just technically--let me mount praise on two excellent decisions. First, not to emphasize the infamous refrain, which of course by now everyone expects. Second, recognizing and bringing out that the narrator of this poem is clearly insane. Without that fact, much of the power of the poem often bleeds away.

Photo Credit: Zombie Joe
And it ends on a laugh! Mr. Reiner ends the show on a song, one wonderfully appropriate and snerky given the poem we just saw.

Now here is another couple of nuances I feel misfired. Nowhere near enough to derail the production, but not up the standards of the rest of this very good show. First, Reiner's singing persona (he also does good songs using the lyrics of Poe's "Song" and "Alone") doesn't match the rest of the cast. They bring a vivid nightmare groutesquerie to life while he merely has a pleasant singing voice performed well and clearly. I felt that part of the performance needs something more. Finally, the show stopped rather than ended. Or at least it felt that way, and I suspect maybe that was the intention but if so some small matter of timing didn't quite carry it off.

Please note--please!--my critiques here focus on nuance. This piece is so close to perfect in so many ways, the minor wrong notes stick out. Overall, I found the whole performance very worthwhile! Very entertaining! Even Poe-etic!

The Raven plays Friday nights at 8:30pm until July 26, 2013 at Zombie Joe's Underground Theater at 4850 Lankershim Blvd, (just south of the NoHo sign), North Hollywood CA. You can reserve tickets at 818-202-4120

Friday, June 28, 2013

Stabilized Not Controlled (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Stabilized Not Controlled marks the third show I've been lucky enough to see with the gifted Frank Blocker. He gets special mention because in this one he plays the entire cast of characters--a tour de force he pulled off previously for the same theater, the well-named Visceral Theater Company in Southern Gothic Novel.

Here he seems to do fewer characters, which is almost a pity. Really, the man can do a crowd scene all by himself and yet keep a startling number of people distinct in the audience's minds! No mean feat, and almost mind-bogglingly wonderful to behold.

For Stabilized Not Controlled (which like Southern Gothic Novel he also wrote) Blocker seamlessly shifts from one persona to the next. Male, female, young, old, middle aged, lower class, homeless, middle class and the like. Each vivid, distinct and (most important) compelling. Even his villain Killer Joe--a more-than-a-little ruthless landlord--comes across as not a caricature but a human being. Watching this bigoted thug genuinely try to be "polite" and later actually warm to someone in his own icky way makes for one facet an enthralling show. So too his antagonist Lorna Breedlove, a septuagenarian sex addict in recovery (just as a concept I love this--the actual writing and performance proved a delight).

Part of Blocker's methods, incidentally, is to use fairly broad strokes when it comes to characterization.  All his characters end up with strong gestures, signature physicalities like an extreme posture, a cast of the mouth, or the like. In the hands of a lesser artist, this would work as nothing more than farce. What Blocker brings to all that superlative technique makes us care. That something is and remains humanity.

 As far as the plot goes, we get a glimpse into a long-running war between a landlord and his tenants. The former doesn't like to fix things or spend money if he can help it. Well, no landlord does! He however simply doesn't fix them, does all he can to push tenants out so he can raise rents, seems genuinely amazed the tenants can form their own association without his permission! The tenants themselves make for quite a menagerie of human diversity, including a stoner as well as a gay accountant and an aging actress with her boyfriend (who gains a nickname that is just a little bit of genius all but itself). Although there is indeed a plot--with beginning, middle and clear-cut end--the play really acts as a glimpse into the life of this building's society. We get a sense of others who have lived here and others who shall yet follow. Which proves fascinating as well as moving in the end.

Plus funny. Quite often.  

This play forms part of the 2013 Hollywood Fringe, ending far too soon in my eyes with final performance Saturday June 29, 2013 at The Lex 6760 Lexington Ave, Hollywood, CA at 10:30pm. I can honestly say missing this show would qualify as a tragedy. A minor one, to be sure--not like anyone's life is at stake--but a tragedy all the same. See it and you'll understand what I mean!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Till Tech Do Us Part (review)

An old photo of The Mirror Theater
Spoilers Ahoy!

About one block north of the NoHo sign on Lankershim stands The Mirror Theater. (Be warned--the website hasn't been updated in months!)

Last Friday I had the great fun of watching a collection of one act plays there, coinciding with but not actually part of the Hollywood Fringe. Till Tech Do Us Part consists of two more nights of one acts. My review only deals with Group A.

The concept, courtesy of Julie Raelyn, centers around how we try to connect with one another using technology but ultimately fail. In Group A at any rate, we see this explored via comedy for the most part. Just as well. Heavy subjects often go down better with a bit of sugar. Often. Not always. I mean that in every sense. Group A consists of seven tiny plays:

How To Succeed in Romance Without Really Trying by Trace Crawford seems arguably the most difficult to pull off. It hinges on several stylistic quirks that individually earn some genuine giggles (especially given the performance of Lauren Miscioscia as Woman, a character who literally believes nothing happens if it isn't witnessed by others). David Currier has the subtler job of playing Man, who consults a book (Paul Calderon) about what to do with this female he's met online. All three actors do well with what they're given, but ultimately my reaction remains this should be a longer play. It simply lacks the time and events needed for us to enter its weird little world and 'get' what the writer seems to be saying. On another note, the playwright's website describes the title as How To Succeed in Romance Without Really Connecting, which seems better frankly.

Julie Raelyn
Girls' Night Out by Nova Mejia (who also appears in a later play as well as directing this one) never quite gels. Which isn't to say there's not some real entertainment in it. Danielle Camastra and the playwright play two young women trying to find some answer, some equilibrium in their lives, helping each other out along the way. Really, too short with not enough happening to capture much. Both central characters feel like they're real (no small feat) and both actresses seem natural (again, kudos!). Yet if--as seems the case--the notion was to capture a moment of their lives, then it didn't quite work. First, the secondary characters Francois (David Currier) and Holger Moncada's character (a minor complaint about the program--the cast list is incomplete) aren't real at all. They come across as stereotypical lounge lizards. Didn't like them. Nor did I see the depths of desperation that would lead either young woman go out with one of them. Second (and this happened a few other times that night) the mini-play didn't feel as if it ended. It simply stopped. Not the writing's fault. The play had a very good closing line, but tossing it away didn't work.

Vatican 3G by Joe Starzyk (alas he seems not to have a website) ventures more into farce. Kailena Mai goes to confession for the first time in years, only to run up against a Priest (Raymond Morris) wrapped up in the Church's efforts to attract young folk via aggressive use of social media--like insisting on texting both confession and penance. A funny idea, but honestly the two actors don't end up on the same page. Morris veers into camp, doing it quite well. Mai remains more-or-less naturalistic. With only two samples (not counting a minor walk-on unidentified in the program) we don't know what world we're in--a bizarro one where this Priest fits or something more akin to what we view as "normal" from which the Parishioner seems to come.

Stacy Ann Raposa, director of Face Time & others
Face Time by Donna Hoke veers into something else altogether. Something funny and moving and biting. Yet so simple! Two women. Jessica Kaye Temple (who ironically enough seems to lack a website, FB page or anything like that) and Femi Longe play old school friends who meet in line at a store. The former is going through some stuff in her life and tries to simply talk with the latter--who barely listens, constantly checks her iPad, and generally remains the Icon for the theme of this collection of plays! While this premise clearly has lots of potential, the acting (especially the timing) coupled with the rhythm of the writing hits home. And hard. Meanwhile, a big shout-out to both actresses for filling moments of silence. Actors too often fear silence, and when confronted by it freak out. Not so here!

What Are You Going To Be by Steven Korbar is another that fills its time brilliantly. It all centers around an aggressively progressive married couple (Lisa Glass and Andrew Thompson) suffering a crisis around their daughter (Sarah Schwartz) and her choice of a halloween costume. I don't want to give any of it away, since I enjoyed this playlet so much! Besides, spoilers really would live up to the name! Suffice to say I started smiling very soon and laughed with increasing awareness as the story unfolded. Besides, who doesn't love a play that ends with diabolical laughter?

Nova Mejia
Drenched by Sandra Hosking is one of those very subtle character pieces that requires some intense and intuitive work with the actors. Simply, their technique--including the total invisibility of same--needs to soar. A man (Chad Holle) and woman (Nova Mejia again) get caught in the rain. They reach shelter, but she remains in the elements, recalling how as a child she imagined her umbrella a boat. He urges her to come out of the rain. She all but begs him to join her out of the shelter. The danger--pretentiousness. But both cast and playwright avoid that deadly rock in their way! Bravo! Unfortunately, what they fail to achieve is a real relationship, a real moment taking place--save for a few scattered moments when (like lightning, appropriately enough) they stop being actors and those individual PEOPLE peak out. One final problem--the final line didn't feel like an ending. Nor did it feel (as seems intended) as a beginning. Ultimately, I didn't believe these two knew in their bones what lay between their characters. Without that, without that specific knowledge, the playlet falls apart despite some very real charm.

Kung Foolery by Brett Hursey rounded out the evening, and in a very funny way too! Jessica Kaye Temple returns as a wife trying with ever-increasing skill and desperation to get her husband (a much better used Holger Moncada) to stop acting like a Ninja. This is evidently something he does every time her mother (Eugenia Care) visits. In this one, we seem to be in the "normal" world but slowly people and circumstances reveal themselves as increasingly surreal--but still within the realm of the possible! A wonderful conceit carried through by the cast with great aplomb--and leaves you wondering about this little glimpse of dysfunctional hell we've just glimpsed. A nice reminder, incidentally, that humor is born from pain.

Bottom line--all are worth seeing, but Face Time, Who Are You Going To Be? and Kung Foolery are the best of Group A.

Till Tech Do Us Part can been seen  Jun 28, 2013: 8 pm (Fri), Jun 29, 2013: 8 pm (Sat), and Jun 30, 2013: 7 pm (Sun) at The Magic Mirror Theater 4934 Lankershim Blvd. North Hollywood, CA 91601

Monday, June 17, 2013

"The Baby" (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Cinema in the 1970s remains a treasure trove of exploitation classics, almost a psychological grand guignol of the silver screen. Almost. And it certainly continues to inspire those with a taste for such things, most lately in the Visceral Company's production of The Baby.

The poster calls the story "bizarre" which remains as good a word as any to describe the story. I'd never seen the cult classic movie upon which it is based. Not sure if this was a good thing or not, but I certainly had a great time!

Be warned--the whole story remains dark, perverse and maybe even haunting. And--let us be honest--absurd.

So a wonderful cast at the Visceral has a great time chewing the scenery in all sorts of styles. Frank Blocker for example does a magnificent take as Mamma Wadsworth, the matriarch of a family hopefully never found in the real world. "Dysfunctional" doesn't begin to cover it. Yet while the whole thing is done with genuine camp, Blocker and the rest of the cast manage that difficult balancing act between jokes and deadly seriousness. He doesn't mug, but finds that right tone of exaggeration that works so well with something like this--even the twitch of an eyebrow inspiring chuckles.

The Wadsworths consist of Mama, her two daughters Alba (Cloie Wyatt Taylor) and Germaine (Natasha Charles Parker)--both quite possibly psychotic--and their youngest brother, the title character Baby (Torrey Halverson). Baby is in his twenties. He wears a diaper, cannot speak or even walk, and sleeps in a crib. To all intents and purposes he remains an infant. Now social worker Ann Gentry (Jana Wimer) enters into the family, newly assigned, and nothing will ever be the same. Nothing! Cue overly dramatic music and/or cackles of laughter from some character, really almost any of them.

A good diabolical laugh remains a must-have for something like this. Managing it indicates a mastery of this kind of semi-retro, arch-melodramatic humor. Think Dr. Evil. Members of this cast nail it!

We follow Mrs. Gentry as she investigates this strange family and befriends the young man known only as The Baby. She suspects abuse and (SPOILERS) she is right! Well, duh!

One sign how good this production remains is that one always gets a sense people aren't telling the whole truth. Even minor characters seem to have their own agendas, a history that we never really explore but sense exists. The result--even amid all the camp an amazing sense of psychological depth remains. We get a real sense of each Wadsworth for example as an individual. Alba's sadism coupled with her fear of and loyalty to her mother. Germaine's quietly pushing the edge in the name of her own whims. Mama's bizarre (there's that word again) devotion to all three of her children. A sick, twisted devotion--but real, including the fact she herself seems to genuinely suffer amid it all.

All of which ends up very funny. If you've a taste for dark humor. Like me!

The Baby runs Sat June 22 through Saturday June 29 at 8pm, playing at The Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Avenue, Hollywood, 90038 (near Highland and Santa Monica). 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"Republic County" (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Attending the premier at Zombie Joe's, I was unfamiliar with Joe Musso's Republic County. Had read the press release about a government office trying to deal with a bunch of poets who'd recently made their abode in the locality--said poets including Emily Dickenson, Henry David Thoreau and Edgar Allan Poe (complete with stuffed dead raven on his shoulder).

What I discovered was a play very much in the vein of Christopher Durang, author of such wild bits of heretical fancy as Sister Mary Ignatious Explains It All To You. Really interesting, entertaining and surreal stuff--a reality existing just between this one and dreams, as if the universe itself had taken just a tiny chip of acid. And we see it kick in.

So government forces operate with fervent self-interest amid a world of regulations but no ethics, rules instead of morals, ambition in place of humanity. Likewise the world outside the bureaucracy shows itself exactly as absurd, as narrow-minded, as ridiculous as we sometimes fear it really is.

All well and good. Not to everyone's taste, but this is Zombie Joe's! They don't do The Odd Couple or South Pacific! Zombie Joe does Urban Death, does Shakespeare and edgy stuff like Notes From Underground! Their comedies are dark and twisted--just the way their audience likes'em! Myself included!

So why didn't I laugh very much that night?

photo credit: Roger K. Weiss
Keep in mind the script itself came across as very clever. Several of the cast I've seen before, doing good work. A few I didn't recognize but still showed talent. The director has done nice things before.

The question arises again, then--why didn't I laugh very much?

Pontification time. Just a friendly warning.

Comedy, said a great comedian/actor, is hard. According to the story, he said that on his deathbed. Specifically he said Death is hard, but not as hard as Comedy. So the story goes. Whether that tale happened or not, I agree with the sentiment. Comedy requires a lot of precision to actually work, and the more stylized the more precise it needs to become. Hence the constant harping by comedians on timing. I once watched an entire documentary that sought to explain why (in part) people these days admire Charlie Chaplin's films so much, but hardly ever laugh at them anymore. By its nature, comedy creates a new world. To be sure, all theatre does that but with comedy the new world differs from our own rather differently
photo credit: Roger K. Weiss
than does (for example) opera.

Republic County seems to me to require a very specific tone and approach, one difficult to describe but with equal parts total reality and utter farce--but farce taken with complete seriousness, as far as the participants are serious about anything. Very much like Durang. And I might as well admit to NEVER having seen a successful production of even one of Durang's plays. Not saying it cannot be done. Not at all! But, like Republic County, the tone and style needs to be a bullseye to work completely.

"Not hitting a bullseye" would usually be pretty minor criticism from yours truly. But some other problems got in the way. And they accumulated.

Remember, I'm pontificating. Still. With very few exceptions (and honestly, other than monologues, I cannot think of any off hand) theatre consists of interaction. Good theatre, anyway. More than one member of the cast seemed to be doing a monologue most of the time--even when (in theory) they were having a conversation with someone else. Part of this lies in what is perhaps a problem of geometry. Zombie Joe's audience is L-shaped, with the understandable result that actors tend to aim themselves at the point of the L, so the maximum number of audience members can see them.  This is a trap. A trap actors need to avoid, and generally have at ZJU. Other times they've taken that quirk of design and used it to great effect (most obviously in Love Me Deadly, created as a old time radio broadcast). That production took the trap and turned it into a stylistic device. Alas, the same cannot be said for Republic County.  What I saw in some actors was a resolute speaking to the audience to the point of ignoring their cast-mates. In other words, they fell into the trap--all the way down. Put another way--they forgot about the Fourth Wall. Some plays don't have one (all of Shakespeare for example). Other most certainly do (Chekhov, Williams, etc.). This is one of those special ones that has a fourth wall that then tears it down! But since we never experienced the fourth wall, the ending lost all its punch.

Frankly, I also wanted to give voice lessons to a couple of members of the cast who mistake volume for projection. Nobody wants to hear them yelling their lines. It remains just very, very poor technique. Honestly, were this a music performance it would be the equivalent of not tuning your guitar beforehand. It is almost as bad for an actor as forgetting one's lines. That is literally how dead serious I take this--projecting your voice is a basic theatrical skill. Not yelling. Not shouting.

This only applies to some members of the cast. Not all. Not a majority. But some.

And the young lady portraying Emily Dickensen did a fine job overall--quite probably because she had no lines (this is nearly always an opportunity to either shine or evaporate as an actor). Almost everyone had some nice moments. Really, even the ones I'm complaining about. Weirdly enough, I quite enjoyed the running gag about the rug (and wish more had been made of it). And the script itself remains very clever, very subversive. Easy to see its attraction!

Which isn't to say you cannot enjoy the show, despite what I see as flaws. Nor that some don't give quite good performances. You can and some do. After all, your mileage may vary. And it isn't as if someone decided to make me infallible. But I do stand by my words.

Republic County plays Saturday nights at 8:30pm through July 6, 2013 at Zombie Joe's, 4850 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood (north of Camarillo).

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"Me Rich, You Learn" (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

My second foray into the 2013 Fringe Theatre Festival here in Los Angeles has the rather strident title Me Rich, You Learn.

The title comes from a (fictional) seminar, run by a former millionaire as part of his community service in the wake of a conviction for tax fraud. Remember, the IRS are the ones who got Capone. Here is how the press release describes it:

Former millionaire and convicted tax evader T.R. Hamer has his world re-collapse while attempting to do an IRS-mandated community service show. En route to rock bottom number two, and despite the efforts of Senior IRS agent Martin Almond, TR proceeds to rewrite the show, sad-eat a pile of marshmallows, crawl into a bag, and fall in love a bunch of times while threatening suicide. From within the madness, TR begins to suspect that his “tormentor” Martin Almond might be the only thing propping him up.

With respect, this doesn't quite give the right impression. But then, it kinda/sorta presumes one has heard of the production company, The Four Clowns. Herein lies the key to understanding--and thereby fully enjoying--the play.

It is a clown show.

Forget stereotypes and think of genuine clowns we've seen (other than Ronald McDonald--he's a corporate mascot really). Pennywise from Stephen King's IT! Or Emmett Kelly. The clown pieces that form part of different shows in Cirque du Soleil. They blend the dreamlike, the surreal, the use of masks all in a kind of distorted mirror held up to some facet of life.

So too Me Rich, You Learn. Which is not as it turns out about money per se at all. Nor capitalism. Like a funhouse mirror, you go in expecting one thing and discover something else. T.R.Hamer and IRS agent Martin Almond appear first amid a glimpse of the weird but still possible. Barely. Then it spirals into an Alice-like Rabbit Hole of the mind, as we laugh as a strange reality that somehow continues to feel possible long after the laws of the physical universe have been left behind.

At heart are the characters. Hamer remains a showman--a sexist, greedy, enraged man who's lost everything in the wake of breaking the rules then getting caught. Yet he remains human, remains someone just trying to get by and deal with the garish, humiliating show the IRS has cooked up for him to do. Who designed the show? We're never told, but it seems likely his keeper/parole officer/guy friday Martin Almond had something to do with it. Such an odd man, that. Limbs too long, eyes too sunken, teeth a little too big--he seems a nerd of the first order but who cares about Hamer. More maybe than Hamer does himself. Within that context we get a series of events as the two try and hold the seminar--complete with some very strange, even tacky ideas of show bizz--while both start coming apart under the stress.

Like I said--a clown show. A rather long clown show. With far more dialogue than one usually expects. But the physical humor, the pulling in of the audience, the increasingly elaborate use of props (including the characters' clothes) all make for a show that only lacks a car the size of a lunch box to gush forth a few dozen brightly colored figures in greasepaint.

This has the opposite effect. We have been invited inside that car. But don't realize it until later.

Not to everyone's taste, of course. But I got something out of it, including more than a few laughs (if you doing comedy and don't get laughs, then you're doing it wrong). I will say that Adam Carpenter seems to succeed at achieving the surreality of his character and the story a little bit better than his partner, Zach Steel--this despite the fact they wrote it together (and kudos to them on that point). But that remains a nuance. Quite simply, Carpenter's Almond comes across as more extreme from his entrance than Steel's Hamer ever quite achieves.  The straight man (Almond) with this kind of thing should probably (I only say probably) seem the more normal, at first.

Like I said, a nuance.

You can see Me Rich, You Learn at The Open Fist Theatre (6209 Santa Monica Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90038), the 6 performances continue through June 29 on Thursday, June 13 @ 8pm, Friday, June 21 @ 9pm, Saturday, June 22 @ 5pm, Friday June 28 @ 11pm and Saturday, June 29 @ 10pm.

Daddy Didn't Die, Did He? (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Got three reviews this week, all of them comedies. So be prepared for pontification!

Daddy Didn't Die, Did He? is a farce centered around a funeral. Thus we expect things to go very, very wrong. Sure enough, this being a farce, such goings wrong follow in a growing cascade. The Assistant Funeral Director has been left in charge, while the deceased children start fighting it out for who gets to do the eulogy (two of them seem like hipster versions for people from The Game of Thrones) while other matters arise regarding the will.

Matters always arise regarding the will.

The entire cast consists of Will Matthews and Casey Christensen (from Hemophilia's House of Horrors), a comedy team with over twelve years experience. It shows. Apart from the fact both show considerable skill, they also (and this remains crucial) remain comfortable with each other and never stop interacting. Seen lots of plays where such interaction doesn't happen. Odd, since what else is acting after all?

Pontification follows. I warned you.

Both Matthews and Christensen play multiple characters: The Assistant Director, the deceased's trophy wife (a nice enough but dim, dim, dim bulb in the chandelier of human intellect), the fraternal twins locked in a never ending battle to earn the title of ubermensch, their housekeeper who had a thirty-year affair with the dearly departed, the very nice but insecure eldest daughter, and even an elderly couple doing a little bit of window shopping for their own funeral. This puts a demand on them. Every time they walk on stage, we the audience need to know in seconds who they are--especially since neither changes clothes (there's no time, for one thing).

And they succeed! Wonderfully! More than voice, but also vocal tones, stance, the way they walk and look at things all form a cohesive whole for each character. Indeed, towards the end there's even a long scene where they continually switch characters and remain on stage!

Which remains praiseworthy in and of itself, but the further trick they accomplished remains capturing the right tone for the piece. Well, they wrote it, so one hopes they'd understand that. Doesn't necessarily follow, though. Not only do they have to maintain a comic tone appropriate for the piece, they have to share that tone. A much harder thing to do! Ever notice how many "10 Worst Movies" lists each year contain a whole lot of comedies? Why? Because when you're supposed to laugh, and you don't--or worse, no one laughs--the failure glares like a beacon. Part of what they did right remains something extremely simple--they played their scenes with each other, and to each other. Not to the audience.Bravo! More, they understood precisely what they were saying and didn't try to be funny. They simply were funny, each character allowed to be humorous without straining either performer or audience.

The result was laughter. Lots of it. A quick little roller coaster of human foibles, easy to follow (if not to perform) hence effortless to watch (the exact opposite to rehearse and perfect, I expect), allowing us to feel in the moment--but not too much. Because shooting a horse gleefully to make your brother suffer shouldn't be funny, wouldn't be, not in real life. But when you strike the right tone as was achieved here--comedy gold!

Daddy Didn't Die, Did He? is part of the 2013 Fringe and plays at the Ruby Theatre in the Complex at 6476 Santa Monica Boulevard. Showtimes: June 13, 8pm - June 20, 8:15pm - June 21, 9:45pm - June 28, 11pm - June 29, 9:15pm