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Acme Slings Arrows at Love in 'Ball & Chain'

February 10, 1996|LAURIE WINER | TIMES THEATER CRITIC

The Groundlings and Acme Comedy Theatre are the Hertz and Avis of Los Angeles comedy troupes. In its battle to be No. 1, Acme opens a new sketch comedy revue on the subject of love at its theater on La Brea Avenue. In "Ball & Chain," the No. 2 contender may be trying harder, but it's in fairly flabby shape at the moment.

In the opening skit a woman (Stefane' Zamorano) waits for a visit from a man who has proposed to her, practicing every manner of "no" she can think of. Each different "no" is not funny in its own way. The punch line is inevitable.

Spliced throughout the evening are a variety of awful singers auditioning for the job of wedding entertainment. It is very familiar territory.

A few company members stand out. Antoinette Spolar does a great Princess Di, flashing a doleful gaze throughout her moribund nightclub act with the frenzied Fergie (Susie Geiser, the troupe's biggest bundle of energy). Spolar is also funny as a novice striptease dancer who keeps breaking down with shame at a bachelor party.

Of the men, Ted Hardwick and Jerry Lambert could do no wrong. Their skit "Past Calling," in which a man telephones a former lover to warn him they're going to be at the same wedding, is a low-key and perfectly modulated one-act full of long-ago betrayal and present sarcasm. In "My New Job," Lambert--wearing orange shorts, black socks and a ridiculous hat--was pure quirk as the gung-ho manager of a food chain called Hotdog on a Stick.

Often, skits feature nicely eccentric characters but too little point. In "Welcome Home," for instance, a Midwestern mom (Audrey Rapoport) peels carrots into Tupperware, uttering the great line, "I've clipped an article for you from the local paper about those vagabond cows." But the sketch goes nowhere. Also, some of the sketches have nothing to do with love, as in the unfunny case of a Girl Scout leader (Robyn Donny) giving a barracuda sales talk to her little charges.

Pound for pound, the most robust sketch is "Table Talk," in which two careful corporate husbands (Hardwick, Lambert) bring together their wives (Donny, Rapoport) to bond--but with proper corporate decorum. The women approach each other gingerly but once they get going, they show that female bonding knows no decorum, to the utter mortification of the husbands.

The rest of the evening, though, is slack stuff. The last skit, which features the company members as wedding guests urging on the reluctant groom's "I do," is just lame. Director M.D. Sweeney should have been stricter with standards. For a two-hour-plus evening, the funny parts make up a half-hour. Hey, if you want to be No. 1, you've got to try even harder.

* "Acme Ball & Chain," Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., Sat., 8 p.m. Indefinitely. $12. (213) 525-0202. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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