Monday, April 19, 2010

Anticipating The Punch Line

Comedy as Music On A Sunday Afternoon

By Russ Bickerstaff
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As easy as it is to wince at the quaint and hackneyed comedy of Neil Simon, in the right frame of mind it can actually be kind of relaxing to see a style and rhythm of comedy that is as familiar as Simon’s. This is the experience I had sitting in a crowded Sunday matinee of Rumors in Elm Grove.

Simon’s style of comedy, which gets its lineage from sitcom-style humor that goes back to the golden age of radio and Vaudeville before it, is reassuringly familiar. It’s the comedy equivalent of listening to classic rock. And as much as it may tax the music-to-comedy analogy, watching Sunset Playhouse’s Rumors reminded felt a little bit like listening to an early-era Beatles album that never got released . . . but as this was something Simon wrote in the ‘80’s, I suppose the experience was a lot more like watching a pilot episode of a mid-‘80’s sitcom that never really aired.

The script itself isn’t very funny. Directed by seasoned actor Mark Metcalf, the play was put-together pretty well nonetheless. With some real talent in the cast, it was a pleasure seeing people like Randall T. Anderson and Sarah Laak Hughes trick the script into some genuine humor in places, but beyond that, there was a certain comfort in seeing comedy play out this predictably. I’ve never seen the play before. Never read the script either, but the comedy was very, very familiar. Reminded me of classic sitcoms from twenty years ago . . . and as unfamiliar with this particular comedy as I was, I actually anticipated quite a few of the punch lines . .  . right down to the delivery. It was a bit annoying at first seeing a comedy for the first time and being that intimate with it, but after a while, the all-too familiar rhythm of the play settled-in and I had a pretty good time turning off my brain and letting the show do its ‘80’s farce thing on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

 

Sunset Playhouse’s Rumors runs through May 8th. A comprehensive review of the show runs in an upcoming Shepherd-Express. 

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