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TV REVIEW : 'Truth' a Successful Jump to Small Screen

April 10, 1993|SYLVIE DRAKE | TIMES THEATER CRITIC EMERITUS

Just as it did on stage, Rick Reynolds' "Only the Truth Is Funny" on TV will sneak up on you.

This 90-minute monologue of the truth and nothing but, airs at 10:30 tonight and 9:30 p.m. Thursday on Showtime, and its impact is only slightly more removed in this medium--a taping of the original stage show, shot head-on and without frills in front of a live audience.

That live audience is crucial, because Reynolds' truths are painful and deserve a live reaction. After a few lightly tossed-off remarks about childhood being a time of "punishment and confusion," his transplanted hair, and an obsession with making lists for the sheer pleasure of crossing things off, Reynolds makes a serious threat: "I promise you, I will not lie to you," he says. No kidding.

From this point on, the "jokes" encompass a scary, rotten childhood, with a father who died in a drowning accident when Reynolds was a baby, an alcoholic stepfather who beat up on his alcoholic mother, and a succession of other men who flesh out a picture ranging from lurid to hilarious.

What's remarkable about this show, seen in 1991 at the Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills, and now in this minimally altered state, is its knack for processing pain and self-hate into such lively, unself-pitying material. Endlessly pacing the stage in white shirt and gray suit and tie, the 40ish Reynolds seems the unlikeliest candidate to be telling us all this.

As with that other first-class monologuist, Spalding Gray, who also trades heavily on the self-involved Truth, Reynolds' barbs are dipped in neurosis and aimed at his "anal, obsessive, vain, judgmental, insecure, righteous" self.

His truth is too strange to be fiction. What grabs us is its honesty and the clever if precarious balance he maintains between humorous general observation and deep personal fears disguised as jokes: fears of turning out like his mother, of seeing himself in lonely old men who eat alone, of dying "an unknown comedian."

We cover a lot of territory in the flow of free-association, from Jesus ("he had to be a troubled teen") to marriage to his wife, Lisa ("she hates L.A. because she's normal "), to moving into an old Victorian house in Petaluma, where Reynolds took everything out of his act that wasn't true--and had no act.

That was the beginning of "Only the Truth," written, finally, from the ground up. It changed his life.

But his true major epiphany was becoming a father--something Reynolds resisted with all his might and surrendered to kicking and screaming. As heartbreaking as it is to hear him express to us the deep love he feels for his mother that he cannot express to her, it is sheer, hilarious bliss to see him transformed into a babbling, happy idiot by the birth of son Cooper.

"Who would have believed that responsibility was a necessary ingredient of happiness?" he wonders. Who indeed. Truth is the mother lode and, out of Reynolds' mouth, not easily left behind.

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