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Small Improv Theater Big on Laughs

August 19, 1994|SYLVIA L. OLIANDE

Most comedy club-goers dread the performer who pulls them out of the crowd and turns them into part of the act. At L.A. Connection Comedy Theatre, the audience has no choice but to participate, since troupe members base their improvisational sketches on audience suggestions. It's interactive comedy at the Connection.

THE SCENE: The theater is small and intimate, but this helps keep the energy level high--which keeps the cast members sharp. Rows of seats reminiscent of a 1950s movie theater accommodate about 50 people. For larger audiences, chairs are added on a tiered platform at the right of the stage. The lights are turned down between sketches, and a screen above the stage shows old movies dubbed with funny new dialogue. Patrons pay the cover in a very small lobby, where pictures of cast members hang on the walls. Although the club doesn't sell food or drink, patrons can bring their own.

THE CROWD: Mostly college age. Crowd members play along with the troupe and gladly shout out suggestions. In one sketch called "Audition," the audience was asked to choose a product that cast members would improvise jingles for, as part of a fictional audition. The audience chose "Spudnick," a combined shaving cream and whipped cream.

THE LAUGHS: The headlining cast on a recent Saturday night kept the audience laughing--not missing a beat or an opportunity for a joke. One sketch featured two cast members on a visit to a tropical-fish store while impersonating male stars chosen by the audience. One of the best sketches was "The Mating Game," in which a woman in the audience had to choose a dream date from three eligible bachelors--Angus McGaffrey, a Scot with an attitude, played by Steve Pinto; "The Buttonman," a man who sells various slogan buttons and fondles them constantly, played by Jeff Nimoy; and Manu Tulalusa Sapalo, a Pacific Islander who works as a wall mount at the Enchanted Tiki Room, played by Albert Bowen.

THE GOOD: The laughs are abundant. By getting audience members involved, the troupe brings them closer to the action, and making up jokes on the spot earns them extra kudos. "I like it because it's always different," said Christine Lawrence, 24, who has been going to the Connection for six years. She added that people should not be put off by the club's interactive nature because the jokes are not mean-spirited. "People think they are going to pull them on stage and make fun of them, but they don't," she said.

THE BAD: For the uninitiated, parking can be frustrating. There is a very small lot at the rear of the building, and spaces in front if you can get them, but overall, there's not much. Patrons can also use the lot behind the Copper & Brass store a few blocks away at 13534 Ventura Blvd.

THE WORD: "I hope I'm not going to get kicked out for this," said one cast member after lighting a cigarette in the nonsmoking theater, for a Frank Sinatra impression.

L.A. Connection, 13442 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Shows are 7:30, 9 and 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays ; 3:30, 5:30, 7 and 8:30 p.m. Sundays ; and 9 p.m. Thursdays. Cover varies from $7 to $10. (818) 784-1868.

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