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Summer Splash

Some Inadvertent Comedy

Carl Gottlieb is a writer, director, author and actor shose screenwriting credits include "Jaws" (acting also(, "The Jerk" and "Dr. Detroit." He has written for numerous television movies, specials and series, including "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," for which he won an Emmy.

May 22, 1997|CARL GOTTLIEB | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Got an appetite for humor? Wade through the comedy club garden to sample the current crop of stand-up comics and you'll find the usual vegetables and nuts, with an occasional spicy treat sandwiched in among the bland, the boring and the gratuitously nasty. But for the advanced palate, there are more interesting places to look for laughs. Southern California offers generous portions of unintentional satire, platters of self-parody and enough irony to make a postmodernist grin from ear to ear to ear.

Which is not to say that these amusements are frivolously created. They're the work of serious people and are seriously intentioned. It's just that things sometimes work on several levels, and one man's kitchen is another man's kitsch. You can go there for the meal that was intended, or you can dine out on the peculiarities, inferences and connections that might not even be there. That's how ambiguously entertaining these events might be.

Take as an example the Southwest Regional Final of the Alpo Canine Frisbee Disk Championships, in Pasadena's Brookside Park. Here's a pleasant venue, a gaggle of trainers, owners and their friends and families, and a great pack of eager-to-please pooches, some dressed funny, all running and leaping into the air to snag the airborne disks. There's an actual scoring system, judges, winners, losers, favorites and literal underdogs.

Without knowing anything about the fine points of canine catching, you and your friends can spend hours handicapping the contestants ("The Doberman looks good breaking from the line, but can she go the distance?" and "Maltese terriers don't have the legs for high-altitude maneuvers"). Bet on the outcome, assign points for costuming and owner-handler appearance, and take advantage of the photo opportunities--this event can't help but be an amusing afternoon.

For indoor noncompetitive cavorting, there's the world of dance. Plenty of serious classical and modern, ethnic and regional dance, but not a lot of laughs. But wait--here's Michael Flatley, who brings his "Irish sci-fi 'Lord of the Dance' spectacle" to a number of Southland venues. It's a wildly popular combination of Celtic clogging and jazz-tapping Hibernian Rockettes.

Where's the comedy in a river-dancing chorus line? For starters, there's the delightful posturing of Flatley in his sushi-bar headband, fronting the ensemble. Then there's the charm of the corps de ballet. Deconstruct the mechanical beauty of a lot of people hammering the stage with percussively perfect steps, and you've got individuals. Pick your favorites. See if you can figure out who's really loving it, and who's just clogging for the paycheck.

Know that large dance groups employ an almost military hierarchy to keep order in the ranks; see if you can pick out the section leaders and dance captains. Watch for mistakes. See if you can find special friends relating to each other within the intricacies of the onstage patterns. Are there folks in the company who can't stand each other? Find reasons for them to dislike their fellow dancers. The Academy Awards telecast gave us only a brief taste of Flatley's Irish sci-fi choreographic complexity. It made me long for more.

Finally, there's the legitimate theater, where plenty of clearly labeled comedies compete with musicals and serious drama for your attendance. A candidate for special attention would be Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure" at the Helms Bakery Complex. Here's the promise of a particularly political reading of the Bard--the producing entity is the Los Angeles Women's Shakespeare Company. The possibilities are intriguing.

More exciting to me is the prospect of seeing, yet again, one of the most charming operettas ever written in English, the Gilbert and Sullivan classic "H.M.S. Pinafore," performed for the six hundred and eighty-seven thousandth time, in Santa Maria. This delightful warhorse has tunes you can hum, comic subplots and several near-perfect patter songs and chorus numbers whose lyrics are a dazzling lesson in rhythm and rhyme.

The beauty of Gilbert and Sullivan is their work is performer-proof; it can be done in high schools, London's West End, and on Broadway with Linda Ronstadt and Kevin Kline (I know, that was "Pirates of Penzance," but I'm making a point here).

If everyone just remembers the lines and the piano is tuned, the evening's good clean fun. Anything more than that, like an orchestra of talented musicians, some skillful singers and a well-rehearsed chorus, and you'll rediscover what "classic" means. And if you haven't been to a full-scale production of a Gilbert and Sullivan show in 10 or 40 years or never, you're in for a special treat, without a single smirk. If you've seen "Pinafore" within the last 10 years, you're excused. Go for the Irish dancers or the Frisbee-catching dogs; feminist Shakespeare's optional.

BE THERE

For details on Carl Gottlieb's itinerary, please see Page 16.

Scripted for Fun

Here is the information on the events in the threee screenwriters' summer itineraries on Pages 3 to 5:

CARL GOTTLIEB

Southwest Regional Finals of the Alpo Canine Frisbee Disk Championships, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Pasadena Brookside Park, 360 N. Royal Blvd., Pasadena, (818) 780-4915.

Michael Flatley's "Lord of the Dance," the Pond, 2695 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 704-2400 or (714) 704-2000, June 17-18.

"Measure for Measure," Los Angeles Women's Shakespeare Co., Gascon Center Theatre, Helms Bakery Complex, 8737 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 578-5511, May 28-June 29.

"HMS Pinafore," PCPA Theatrefest, Allan Hancock College, Marian Theatre, Santa Maria, (805) 922-8313, Aug. 23-Sept. 6.

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