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VALLEY WEEKEND | THEATER REVIEW

Revue Looks at Men and Has to Laugh

'Men Are Animals 2' at Eclectic Company Theatre is a funny, self-deprecating take on the male of the species.

September 12, 1996|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's been four years since Steve Greenberg and Bart Sumner concocted the comedy revue "Men Are Animals," but that doesn't mean "Men Are Animals 2" is four years worth of material stuffed into less than 90 minutes. The production's program is cagey about why it took so long for a sequel (the pursuit of getting a life apparently slowed things up), but the results--at the Eclectic Company Theatre--are unapologetically funny.

For one thing, you have to like the idea of guys putting together a show that calls men "animals." That's been a women's province, not men's, and the evening's lightness is maintained by a consistent air of self-deprecation.

Even keyboard accompanist and musical director Noah Michael Levine, whose sly hipster interludes keep things in rhythm, insults himself and his "g-damn" keyboard at times. Like in any good comedy, egos are checked at the door.

An example of this is how, while it's Greenberg's and Sumner's show, they give plenty of limelight to co-star Deven May, a compact, eagle-eyed funny man who goes in for cockeyed disguises ranging from a buxom nurse to John Adams. Yes, it seems that even the Founding Fathers were animals too, re-imagined here with Adams, Jefferson (Greenberg) and Ben Franklin (Sumner) getting stoned to come up with a killer draft of the Declaration of Independence.

The revue veers from the dumb-is-funny trend that's been colonizing comedy everywhere, and opts for thinking persons' topics, such as guilt-ridden male Democrats, Greek philosophers, the U.S. Secret Service, death, the amusing innuendo of cyber-love, and a nearly dazzling closer--"Jurassic Park: The Musical," spoofing old and new Broadway (and that assumes you know old and new Broadway).

Still, Greenberg and Sumner aren't flying over their audience's heads: Greenberg's philosopher is named Testosterus, his Death Messenger is straight from the Borscht Belt, and TV gets skewered with spoofs of Columbia House and 900-number phone-sex ads. Their show-biz savvy isn't only manifested in what they poke fun at, but in how they do it. They know not to go on too long, when it's the right time for Levine's music breaks, where to insert a skit, and how to balance the skits with longer scenes.

*

And the scenes aren't animalistic, as the title would suggest, but humanizing. One, with Sumner and Greenberg as two very different fathers in a maternity ward, is unexpectedly touching, and the Jefferson-Adams-Franklin confab pushes a good idea to the limit but doesn't crush it. Another, with Greenberg as a kvetchy dad and Sumner as a concerned son, embeds the comedy within the characters and not the other way around.

The show deserves something better than the non-ending it now has. It definitely deserves its own set rather than uncomfortably playing in front of and around the set for the Eclectic's production of "Women of Manhattan." And, if Greenberg and Sumner want to keep this going, four years till the next sequel is too long a stretch.

DETAILS

* WHAT: "Men Are Animals 2."

* WHERE: Eclectic Theatre Company, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood.

* WHEN: 10:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays.

* HOW MUCH: $10.

* CALL: (213) 466-1767.

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