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STAGE REVIEW : Versatile Duo Serves Fresh Comedy in 'Canned Laughter'

November 11, 1987|DON SHIRLEY

Jeanette Collins and Mimi Friedman have honed their comedy revue "Canned Laughter" to the point that they can now relax with it. It looks easy, even spontaneous.

It isn't spontaneous--this duo doesn't take audience suggestions or otherwise improvise in performance. The sketches are precisely constructed and seldom run beyond their appropriate length. Michael Patrick King directed.

Yet between the more formal sketches, Collins and Friedman retire to stage right, a small kitchen set, and shoot the breeze over cups of coffee.

This part of the show may well be just as rehearsed as the sketches, but it makes the perversely titled "Canned Laughter" seem as fresh as the morning coffee. And Collins and Friedman come off as a couple of witty neighbors who drop in on each other just for the company--like two Rhoda Morgensterns who live next door to the Cast Theatre.

The sketches themselves are fairly subtle, befitting a duet who make fun of those Hollywood types who urge them to "punch up the material." Perhaps their best piece, because it treads relatively unexplored territory, is an encounter between a black street poet (Friedman) and a Korean-American market owner (Collins) over the latter's salad bar.

Most of their other subjects are more familiar. They play several mothers and daughters, with Friedman taking the children's and old woman's roles and Collins trying to take care of everyone from her position in early middle age.

They're not only the Stitch Sisters, the two surviving members of a '40s singing group, now playing at the VFW, but they're also Verna and Velma Welch, singing (and miming) country gospel at the Holiday Inn. They respect these characters enough to make their harmonies sweet and tight.

Friedman is short, stout and blond; Collins is taller, thinner, a brunette. Between them, they have mastered every gesture, every tic, of the funny girls and women who inhabit "Canned Laughter."

With its kaffeeklatsch atmosphere, this really isn't a late-night sort of show. But that's when it plays, at 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, at 804 N. El Centro Ave., through Nov. 28. Tickets: $7; (213) 462-0265.

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