By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
With the Winter Olympics schussing NBC's must-watch sitcoms off the prime-time schedule, fans of Friends and Will & Gracemight consider heading over to Kitchen Dog Theater for a fix. Rebound and Gagged, a new play by Aaron Ginsburg, sports all the elements of a successful TV situation comedy: attractive, single, WASPy young characters (all pals since college) angsting about growing "old" (they're 27); scads of jokes about dating and getting dumped; even a shabby-chic apartment living room as the set.
Sure, there are lots of laughs in Rebound. Lots of zippy pop tunes, too, interspersed between the many short, blink-and-miss-'em scenes. The play's witty and carefully selected soundtrack (compiled by director Tina Parker) not-so-subtly underscores the simple messages of the play--the Love Boattheme crooned before Act 1, J. Geils' "Love Stinks" after the breakup scene, Beck's "Loser" cued up for the lousy date--the way music burbles out at just the right time for those "special" moments on Felicity.
At Kitchen Dog's Black Box Theater at the MAC, every moment of this new play may not be special, but overall the production is skillfully produced and winningly acted by a cast of five performers so well-scrubbed, fit and handsome they look as if they might have cha-cha'd right out of a Gap ad. Add it all up, however, and there's still a major problem with Rebound and Gagged. It may be cute as a basket of speckled pups, but it isn't really a good piece of theater.
What it is, is a live re-enactment of a TV sitcom pilot script. A pretty good sitcom pilot script actually, but a not-very-good play (to see the difference, read an episode of Just Shoot Mein script form sometime and compare it with, say, Michael Frayn's comedy Noises Offor even Neil Simon's classic Barefoot in the Park).
Heck, if Ginsburg, a Southern Methodist University drama grad who now is out in Los Angeles working as a screenwriter, isn't pitching sitcom ideas to the Big Four networks, he's missing a ride on that gravy train. He has the TV comedy format down pat and certainly knows his way around setting up a laugh. He just doesn't have a clue how to translate that talent into writing for the stage. Rebound resounds with the sensibilities of television, not theater. Except for one visual joke about a giant sock puppet, there's not a single moment in the play that wouldn't translate better to the small screen.
Ginsburg, the same age as his Rebound characters, writes dialogue like someone who grew up believing in the cynical worldview of Seinfeld and friends and the loose sexual mores of Chandler Bing and Friends.He's caught up in the predictable one-two-three-punch! rhythm of 1990s TV comedies and the 60- to 80-second scenes those shows are built around. His characters may be named Kyle, Jase, Cooper, Herrick and Dana, but they're clearly barely disguised amalgams of Ross, Joey, Jerry, Elaine and George. Rebound's words sound so much like what we've heard and loved for a decade on NBC Thursday nights at 7, one keeps expecting a little peacock to flap across the stage announcing what's up next.
Some of the lines in Rebound are hilarious, but only if you haven't watched TV much in the last, oh, 30 years. Ginsburg assumes his audience either won't notice or care, but apparently he has spent a lifetime engrossed in the tube, filing away for future recycling some memorable TV bits.
A little too memorable, it turns out.
Rueing his breakup with his idealized girlfriend Dana, love-bruised Kyle (David Goodwin) whines, "I'm haunted by her laundry." Followed, of course, by the predictable fondling of her purple "scrunchy" and the sniffing of her little left-behind T-shirt, a poignant moment of romantic nostalgia originated by the Ross Geller character on Friends on March 27, 1997, in an episode titled "The One With the Tiny T-Shirt."
One of the funniest, but most unoriginal, running gags in Rebound and Gaggedhas Cooper (the elfin Leah Spillman) fitted out in a series of hideous bridesmaid's dresses as she stiletto-heels her way from wedding to wedding, watching her sorority sisters walk down the aisle. All of them will get "real jobs, minivans and sons named Dylan," she complains. And all she has is a crummy job as a gallery receptionist (wasn't that Charlotte's gig on Sex & the City?) and a closetful of frocks that look like pieces of a Rose Bowl float.
The ugly bridesmaid's dress gag is a reliable comedy chestnut that can be traced back to 1972, when Mary Tyler Moore as plucky Mary Richards agreed to be a maid of honor wearing an enormous hoopskirt bedecked with giant floppy bows. Fast-forward to 1994 and the film Four Weddings and a Funeral, which dredged up the same joke for its take on a group of friends getting married off one by one. This time the hideous pink Bo Peep gown shows up on an unhappy single girl who's so rushed to get to the church, she accidentally leaves the back of the dress tucked in her panties. That one was reprised on Friends in 1996, when Rachel, in a bridesmaid's dress as pink as calamine, swanned down the aisle with her red undies in full dorsal view. (It's not just budding playwrights who steal gags; the professionals do it, too.)