YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Women's Place Is in the Hot Seat--and Behind the Laughs

Comedy review: The Crazies' offshoot, led by LizAnne and Nina Arnelli, fires steady blasts of wacko skits and improvisation.


SANTA ANA — It's no secret that men have long ruled the comedy scene. Everywhere you look, from the Improv to the Groundlings to Acme Comedy Players, guys dominate the L.A.-area comedy landscape, .

Even in the case of the Orange County Crazies, though its founder-director is a woman (Cherie Kerr), men have tended to overshadow and outnumber women.

But, in the kind of smart move that echoes the development of both the Groundlings and Acme, the Crazies have helped set up a farm club--not a comedy rookies' training group exactly, but an offshoot called the Hot Seat Players. It's also run by a woman, LizAnne, who has long been one of the crazier of Crazies' mainstays. In fact, the group's whole first show, "By the Seat of Your Pants," at the Crazies Theatre in the Pacific Symphony Center building in Santa Ana, is dominated by women.

Not since the Groundlings' days when Mary ("Mad TV") Scheer and Julia ("God Said 'Ha!' ") Sweeney commanded attention away from their male colleagues have women shone as they do here. And Scheer and Sweeney were still outnumbered by the men in their groups, while the Hot Seat Players features four women and two men.

In "By the Seat of Your Pants," LizAnne and Nina Arnelli--another gifted Crazies veteran--put on a comedy clinic, and maybe stage a little revolution, with help from the rest of the company.

Through the course of 17 skits and a bundle of improvs bunched together in Act II, Arnelli and LizAnne furnish one blast of wacko energy after another.

LizAnne does a bit as a Joan Baez-ish folk-singer who grows increasingly agitated as she ponders life's petty problems, until she explodes with the fierceness of John Belushi. It's a radical level of emotional comedy, and rare.

Arnelli's energy has a pleasantly different and complementary dynamic to LizAnne's. Arnelli can reach heights of hysterical fever, as in an early sketch where she plays a crazed woman in a singles bar. But she can also project strong physical and vocal control, as when she's the reigning diva of techno-pop (who retreads the same tune for all of her hits, which we also see on video), or an amazingly original lampoon of the O.J. trial, with Arnelli as a balletic, kick-boxing Marcia Clark.

By late in the show, we've seen LizAnne play Queen Elizabeth, a loudmouthed redneck, one of the "In Living Color" Fly Girls and a Blues Brother. Arnelli has played a stressed-out fiancee, a coolly maniacal beautician, Ann Landers and a TV shrink, as well as a mean blues harmonica.

Great range, great stage presence--which shouldn't cloud the fact that the show's real revelation is the string of skit ideas, most by Arnelli. These aren't skits from comedy's old-boy network, but distinctly feminist and a little naughty: Everything from Wonder Bras to make-up to dating is given a refreshing gender twist.

Only two pieces in the show are written by a man (member Mark O'Donald), and, in many cases, O'Donald and Anthony Angelo play second-fiddle to the women. (Arnelli's Landers trounces Angelo's Rush Limbaugh in a "Crossfire"-like duel.)

The co-stars have moments to shine. Fatima Sanchez does a beleaguered eyewitness for a silly TV news report, and Vivian Cutler hams up as a truly awful magician. Angelo provides solid support, and O'Donald displays an Arnelli-LizAnne-type range singing "Girl From Ipanema" in drag.

See? Even the guys are gals here.


* "By the Seat of Your Pants," Orange County Crazies Theatre, Pacific Symphony Center, 115 E. Santa Ana Blvd., Santa Ana. Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Aug. 10. $8. (714) 550-9900.

The Hot Seat Players company: Nina Arnelli, LizAnne, Mark O'Donald, Vivian Cutler, Anthony Angelo and Fatima Sanchez.

A Hot Seat Players production. Directed by LizAnne. Lights: David Gassen. Video: Tom Bede.

Los Angeles Times Articles