SANTA ANA — Just reading the papers and checking out the TV news and tabloid shows should tell you. But there's something about going to a comedy sketch show like the kind that the Orange County Crazies specialize in that really makes you realize that these are kooky times. (Even Dennis Miller, he of the Olympian demeanor, was shaking his head about current events on the "Letterman" show this week.)
Comics must be salivating these days with Tonya and Nancy and Lorena and Eric and Lyle and Michael to play with, and watching the Crazies' new show, "Orangefeld," is a good way to see a lot of the topical nonsense sifted and reshaped.
The Crazies have also reshaped themselves: With five new company members (Patty DeBaun, Phil Fleischmann, Patsy Fung, Kevin Peralez and young Lindsay Marie Verbage) and a few more recently added (Tom Collins, Carmen Garduno, Guy Nelson and Don Wood), it's almost an entirely new group from this time last year.
The freshness shows, in every sense.
Perhaps as an indication that the \o7 Sturm und Drang \f7 of recent tabloidized news is actually lighter than air, the running skit theme is a takeoff on "Seinfeld," and how the show's situations are essentially based on nothing.
For all its cleverness and cheeky smarts, "Seinfeld" is the perfect sitcom match for TonyaNews reality, in which New York Times reporters actually debate figure skating in prime time.
The Crazies push this only so far. Each "Seinfeld" skit segment uses audience suggestions but otherwise sticks closely to the original, from musical director Tom Zink's dead-on simulation of the show's thumpy music to some good casting (especially Garduno as Elaine).
Eric Halasz is no Kramer (there's more to Kramer than mere clumsiness), but Collins' George and Nelson's Jerry replicate these pals' weekly clashes.
What's grating is that the same joke--playing on Jerry's line, "Why not make something out of nothing?"--is repeated sketch after sketch. Two or three scenes of this is fine; six is relentless. And when topics and audience ideas (such as the Laguna fire) are inserted into the scenes, the action stops cold, a reminder that--new or old--this has never been a strong improv group.
It's a stronger idea group, deeply ingrained in tube culture. Some of the best skits ape and update classic TV, from a funny "Leave It to Menendez," to a "Twilight Zone" parody of corporate lying and a Vietnamese "Honeymooners" ("The Hong-Nguyen Mooners"). This last bit introduces a new, interesting twist in ethnic comedy, in which two Latino actors (Rich Flin and Garduno) play Vietnamese--although Garduno is far more attuned to speaking a deliberately pig-Latin Vietnamese than Flin.
The show's marriage of current affairs with TV extends, of course, to infomercials (the funniest being Garduno's crazed Lorena Bobbitt hawking a slice-and-dice machine and Nelson pitching windup "kid companions," played by Verbage and Drake Doremus.)
The usual music-video segments are as smart as ever: Flin as Michael Jackson bemoaning his recent problems in "Had" and Derrick Henderson as Snoop Doggy Dogg singing "Scoop Doggy Poop" to a weak rap beat.
Two second-act, all-ensemble pieces range, under Cherie Kerr's direction, from an uncontrollably messy parody of an Orange County community meeting to a sometimes hilariously funny sendup of popsters benefits.
In this case, it's "Voice Aid," calling for cash to pay medical costs for the strained and shot voices of everyone from Springsteen to Yoko Ono (Fung, in the surprise of the evening). At times like this, the Crazies confidently shove a sharp satirical sword into bloated cultural icons, doing the job clowns are meant to do.
\o7 * "Orangefeld," Pacific Symphony Center, 115 E. Santa Ana Blvd., Santa Ana.. Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends April 16. $12. (714) 550-9900. 2 hours, 25 minutes. \f7 An Orange County Crazies production. Directed by Cherie Kerr. With Toni Ala, Tom Collins, Patty DeBaun, Drake Doremus, Phil Fleischmann, Rich Flin, Patsy Fung, Carmen Garduno, Eric Halasz, Guy Nelson, Kevin Peralez, Lindsay Marie Verbage and Don Wood. Keyboards and musical director: Tom Zink. Video: Kerr with Gary Mocnik and Spectral Video.