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'Chains' Links Fun and Audience Games

February 16, 1996|SCOTT COLLINS

Anyone who sits in the front rows at "Groundlings: Chains Required" is liable to get plucked from the audience and inserted into a sketch about a TV dance contest.

"I'm not really a dancer," a woman protested on review night.

"Oh, you say that," replied the host (John Cervenka), "but your body says otherwise!"

More fun and games from the West Hollywood-based comedy troupe, "Chains" features a familiar but still appealing mix of improvisation (most of it howlingly funny) and hit-or-miss sketches at the Groundling Theatre.

While the weaker bits depend heavily on insult humor (e.g., feuding newlyweds scoping out a new house), the crew shines with impersonations. Michael McDonald is shockingly effective as a fey, apple-cheeked 14-year-old boy who has run away from his hectoring mother (Maggie Baird). And too many viewers will recognize Jennifer Coolidge's boss from hell, a bouffant-coiffed harridan plagued by strange phobias.

The quartet of improvised segments was even stronger, with a special nod to Jim Wise's "What If . . . ," an extemporaneous torch song that imagines an audience member (there they go again) in a distasteful job.

Director Melanie Graham keeps the pace quick, sometimes a bit too quick, with a razor-sharp two-piece band scoring the blackouts.

* "Groundlings: Chains Required," Groundling Theatre, 7307 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. Fridays, 8 p.m., Saturdays, 8 and 10 p.m. Ends April 20. $17.50. (213) 934-9700. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

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