YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

THEATER REVIEW : Acme Puts On 'Survival' of the Funniest : * The players' latest show is hardly an imaginative concept, but is carried out with a fresh approach.


NORTH HOLLYWOOD — You have to worry about the title of the Acme Players' new sketch show, "Acme Survival Kit." A night of earthquake jokes?

Almost none, actually, until the closing number, when the company sings an I-Will-Survive-in-L. A. romp to the tune of "There Is Nothin' Like a Dame." It's a good sign when a comedy group, naturally driven by the topical, keeps the obvious topics under control.

The show also has a sense of quality control, which in sketch comedy means some balance between the acting and writing, with neither necessarily leading the way. Sometimes, under M. D. Sweeney's direction at the Acme Comedy Theatre, this can produce that kind of special skit that leaves one wondering: Where did that come from?

Byrne Offutt's solo scene, for instance. It's about a cartoonishly geeky kid with giant buck teeth who tells about finding a yellow ball with an ugly face painted on it. He thinks it looks like him (although it doesn't strike him as ugly). He even begins to feel as if he's bruising his face when he bounces the ball on the pavement.

Where did this come from? It's one of those stories that seems to drop from the sky, very askew and very true, like one of Donald Barthelme's great weird tales. And Offutt's focused, obsessive performance makes it truly indelible.

Other, less special instances in which the acting and writing are joined at the hip include a nutty encounter between a Yankee businessman (Brian Kerrigan) and three nitwit Cajun motel operators (Kate Donahue, Susie Geiser and Doug Jackson); an insanely neurotic pediatrician (Brett Baer) and his at-wit's-end assistant (Jackson); a Marine private (Ted Hardwick) with his own "Harvey"-type friend (Kerrigan), and "Sunset Boulevard" retold by a struggling sketch comedy writer (Baer) done in by an aging comedy queen (Donahue).

This list also indicates that the Acme folks are not nearly so TV-addicted as other L. A. comedy groups. Sure, there are the inevitable spoofs of ads (such as Marc Drotman's obnoxious pitchman for "Protecto Pants 2000" to ward off all potential Lorena Bobbitts), cable access (Hardwick's and Drotman's heterosexual cross-dressers in the Valley) and info shows (Kerrigan's funny British host explaining obscure moments in art history). And the less said about a Polish version of "Saturday Night Live," the better.

This "Survival Kit," though, is packed with some care--even with the sense, rare for a sketch show, of a running theme: How do normal people deal with crazies, and not become crazy themselves? In one case, in which Kerrigan plays a diner customer waiting and waiting and waiting to be served by Donahue's smacking waitress, Kerrigan ends up doing his best Chris Farley act. Offutt's sharp drill instructor in the "Harvey" scene is another guy being pushed to the edge, and a bit with demon-kid Chelsea Clinton (a funny Geiser) suggests that the inmates are running the White House asylum.

On the other hand, Jonathan Green's over-synthesized, sample-mad music may drive an audience over the edge, and it's all too rare when a scene ends when it's called for. As Jack Benny once noted, a comic almost never knows when to get off stage.


What: "Acme Survival Kit."

Location: Acme Comedy Theatre, 5124 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.

Hours: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Price: $12 to $15.

Call: (818) 753-0650.

Los Angeles Times Articles