Har-de-har-har

Even Louda, Fasta, Funnya! needs more of all three

There's a famous maxim, ofttimes attributed to Mel Brooks, that tragedy is when I slip on a banana peel; comedy is when you slip on it. We can polish this little gem about human nature to a harder, more specifically theatrical gleam by adding: "But when we both slip on the banana peel, nobody's entertained."

To put it bluntly, Pegasus Theatre's new comedic grab bag Even Louda, Fasta, Funnya!, written by artistic director Kurt Kleinmann, suffers from a crippling lack of focus. The stage is littered with so many banana peels, the actors are constantly slipping and sliding all over the place, bumping into each other and the audience in a confusion of double takes, mugging reactions, pratfalls, and sight gags. The result is much like what this play purports to lampoon--the excess and indulgence of actors who've lost sight of their mission in the sheer headiness of performance. Almost pathologically eager to tickle your funny bone, Kleinmann winds up groping you like an amiable but myopic surgeon.

"We take our comedy seriously" is the Pegasus motto, emblazoned below the Theatre's blue neon sign at its Main Street space. The faithful core audience that Pegasus has earned over the years, a following that any small theater company would envy, apparently appreciates this declaration. But while watching Even Louda, Fasta, Funnya!, I longed to tell the cast to stop being so damned merry and lighten up. Kleinmann, a prolific and even innovative local playwright (his Harry Hunsacker series of "black and white" genre spoofs are a small marvel of synchronized production technique), has buried any sense of timing and proportion under an overheated orgy pile of references to various American comic schools. The problem starts when you attempt to separate the writhing mass of arms and legs, to distinguish one body from another. Kleinmann and company rut enthusiastically, but without skill or finesse.

Even Louda, Fasta, Funnya! is a sequel of sorts to a previous Kleinmann effort I didn't see called Louda, Fasta, Funnya!, both of which were inspired by a book I've never read, Michael Green's The Art of Coarse Acting. Both acts of the new work are set inside the cable access studios of a company called TIC Cable in a small Texas town called Ben Dover. We, the ticketbuyers, become the studio audience for a series of unrelated, sometimes interminably long sketches presided over by Elliott Brockman (writer-director Kleinmann), director of FASTA (Famous Actors School of Theatrical Arts) and his touchy-feely sister-in-law Blanche (Andi Allen). FASTA students are presenting the shenanigans to us, including Ben Dover sheriff Frank Stein (Steve Jones) and a black-haired, unsmiling Amazon named Meg (Robin Armstrong).

As the series of slapstick-laden sketches unfolds in front of you, you're left to wonder--precisely what, or whom, is Even Louda Fasta Funnya! supposed to be making fun of? The ineptitude of cable access programmers? Acting students? Small-town Texans with dreams of stardom? The script flirts with all of these targets, but never establishes a connection with any of them. Juxtaposing an acting school exercise (broadcast on cable access?) with an infomercial spoof drags the proceedings down under an amorphous, purposeless weight. And the infomercial for the theatrical disguises skit lingers forever, with host Tom Lenaghen insisting on price markdowns for the TV audience from huckster Eric Knapp until you're begging Kleinmann to change the channel--or firebomb the fictitious studio.

There are occasional laughs clumsily scattered about, suggesting that Pegasus employs talented actors but doesn't have a clear sense of how best to apply them. Andi Allen as Blanche Brockmann, the cohostess and acting instructor, knows how to react broadly and specifically at the same time, her condescending gestures and subtly disguised impatience emerging with disciplined clarity. Steve Jones as Frank Stein, the town's sheriff and would-be thespian, has better timing than some of his co-actors, yet I couldn't escape the uncomfortable sense that Jones was being used as a sight gag for his one salient feature--he's a large fellow. The fat guy getting laughs because he's fat is an undeniable, if sometimes unfortunate, American tradition. The surplus of smart, rotund talent--from Lou Costello to Canadian expatriate John Candy--has always served as an effective counterweight to the meanspiritedness that underscores this lazy convention. Steve Jones has the talent; based on the preponderance of "look at me" physical duties he's given, I'm just not sure Pegasus realizes it.

And then there's Kleinmann as the hapless host Elliott Brockman. With his clipped, erudite delivery and perpetually crumbling composure, Kleinmann seemed less to be giving a performance than a play-length impression. My mind raced to try and place a face on this very familiar comic delivery, to figure out whom Kleinmann was "doing." It finally occurred to me that, intentionally or not, the actor had mastered Robert Benchley's voice down to every lilt and cadence. Benchley was the Life columnist turned author and film personality who spun self-deprecation into comic gold. His charm is little-referenced these days, but once I'd gotten a bead on Kleinmann's imitation, Benchley wandered through this play as restlessly as the ghost of Hamlet's father.

The overwhelming trouble with Even Louda, Fasta, Funnya! is this sense of heedless homage, robbing the greats and then blowing the profits in a drunken spree of actorly indulgence. The love that Kurt Kleinmann and company have for the American comic tradition is not only undeniable, it's inescapable. They ambush you with a net of good intentions so densely woven, your attention isn't just captured, it's smothered to death.

Even Louda, Fasta, Funnya! runs through August 30. Call (214) 821-6005.

 
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