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'Labor Pains' a Biting Comedy That Delivers

April 10, 1998|PHILIP BRANDES

Fine scripting, breezy staging and engaging performances all around make the birth of "Labor Pains" at the Victory Theatre anything but a difficult delivery.

Lisa Diana Shapiro's new comedy about modern coupledom counters traditional family values with unexpected twists. To get the ball rolling, Jake, a West Hollywood illustrator (Shapiro), and her gay roommate, Gino (Carlo Imperato), discover their ongoing efforts to have a child together have finally paid off.

It's quickly apparent, however, that this unlikely couple haven't given much thought to child-raising beyond getting Jake pregnant. What are they going to do about Gino's lover Rob (Michael James Reed), who also wants to take an active parental role, or Jake's pushy sister, Paula (Barbara Niles), who shows up uninvited to reimpose their family's insular Jewish heritage? Before you can say "gefilte fish," Jake finds herself pulled in a dozen hilariously conflicted directions.

Shapiro's script isn't completely free of predictability. You can see the denouements involving their nerdy artist neighbor (Richard Israel) and a hip rabbi (Shari Ballard) coming a mile away, and recurring gags like Jake's fetish for New York deli food are overplayed. But under Jules Aaron's clearly focused direction, the satire has an infectiously agreeable way of flirting with formula only to spin off into unexpected territory. The underlying affirmation that we don't have to settle for repeating our parents' mistakes may lapse at times into wishful thinking, but it's a more thoughtful alternative reality than most comedies afford these days.

*

* "Labor Pains," Victory Theatre, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends May 24. $18-$20. (818) 841-5421. Running time: 2 hours.

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