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VALLEY WEEKEND | THEATER REVIEW

'Uncle's Barn' Makes Pitch for Sketch Show

The talented cast spars with many lines of sharp comedy writing that explore the gender war.

August 08, 1996|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sketch shows written by comedy troupes are so omnipresent that, if L.A. were a country, it would be a major export item. The combination of the city's pressures, contradictions and talent pool makes this town an international capital of, well, sketchiness. It's a group endeavor that contrasts with the ongoing glut of solo shows.

Sketch shows written by one writer are a scarce commodity, though maybe not a bad idea, judging by Dan Reddington's string of sketches under the umbrella title, "My Uncle's Barn," at the Jewel Box Theatre.

There's a consistency of tone here that most sketch collections, by definition, lack. The same voice--slightly jaded, fascinated by how people talk past rather than to each other--is there in every bit; it's the glue that gives the evening cohesion, when most comedy theater is scattershot.

This would be hell were Reddington a bad writer. Fortunately, he's not, and he's aided by the strong hand of director Jacky deHaviland, who never betrays the fact that this is her first stab at sketch comedy.

A piece titled "Abuse" may end on a predictable thud, but it's a nicely modulated piece for four people (Denise Moses, Pepin Valera, Stephanie Wiand and Michael O'Connell) whining about parental neglect. They pass one line to the next like a relay team, and it's even under control when they end up in a screaming match.

This same kind of verbal trading is displayed in the first sketch, "First Impressions," in which Wiand phones her girlfriend about a cute guy--the same guy (O'Connell) who tells his bar mate what a turn-off she is.

The theme of men and women in separate, parallel universes runs throughout the show--most weakly in a running bit between Adele Sparks and Brad Duncan as a quarrelsome couple watching the same show we're watching who sound too much like a pair out of Sitcom Land.

The gender wars get a darker workout in "Penny for Your Thoughts," where Moses' wife gets more than she asks for when demanding husband Reddington's inner thoughts. It dares to end on a somber note rather than a punch line.

In fact, the whole idea of punch lines gets royally skewered by Reddington as a lounge stand-up in a great sketch, "Henny Rintz the Pocono Prince." Even here, men and women spar with each other, and bitterly.

One solo bit, "Down and Out in Noho," seems customized for Jay Pope's obvious gifts as an impersonator, while another has Reddington doing a Harry Carey bit as a baseball announcer who mentions a sponsor with every swing of the bat. Unlike most of the material here, the gag wears away quickly.

Although the taped intro is cheesy, the other taped material (sharply read by Moses, Pope, Wiand, Sparks and Reddington) that segues the sketches is generally funny stuff, much of it smartly satirizing radio. (A bit lampooning National Public Radio's Andrei Codrescu comes out of nowhere, and is dead-on.)

In the spirit of the show's title--a reference to Mickey and Judy putting on a show in Mickey's "uncle's barn"--guest performers are weekly tossed into the mix. Sunday's guests provided cock-eyed contrast: Eccentric singer-bassist Ritt Henn had a romp in Loudon Wainwright III territory, while stand-up comic Katsy Chappell delivered a solidly pro, very adult routine that traveled from Japanese toilets to large-women's clothing stores.

DETAILS

* WHAT: "My Uncle's Barn."

* WHERE: Jewel Box Theatre, 10426 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.

* WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 7 p.m. Sundays.

* HOW MUCH: $12-$14.

* CALL: (213) 466-1767.

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