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THEATER | REVIEW

Show Amusingly Gives the Business to TV Biz

March 19, 1998|ROBIN RAUZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

You don't have to be in the biz to appreciate the way "Production! (Coming Soon)" lampoons television today. Haven't we all been irritated by the Carl's Jr. ads and Jerry Springer slugfests?

The set-up is simple: Poly-Gorp. Entertainment is going to get shut down by its parent company if it can't justify its existence with a hit TV show. This gives the small but versatile cast a chance to rehash the old bad ideas and try out some new ones. Nothing is sacred in this show at the Bitter Truth Theatre: talk shows, commercials, PBS, cable TV. . . .

While their subjects aren't totally fresh, the Killing Kenny Players are an amusing bunch who spice their skits with a good balance of topical and timeless humor.

Several segments are shown, appropriately enough, on video. It may seem counterintuitive to go to a theater to watch TV, but, by and large, the device works, giving the cast time to change costumes between skits while keeping the pace of the show quick.

The "Karl's Sr." advertisement dices up one of the more annoying campaigns on TV these days: "If it doesn't get all over the place, it doesn't belong in your face." The group takes the high road here, simply showing a woman eating a burger while taking the slogan literally. Also funny was the "99-cent Home Shopping Network," where Jude Prest tried in vain to hawk pencils. The mock documentary "Lord Apocalypse: We hardly knew ye," however, has a funny title sequence, but then falls painfully flat.

Most of the time, however, director Keith Hargrove gets his cast in and out of a skit before the joke well runs dry. When Hargrove and Jason Lassen play "The Skipping Acrobats of Cerritos," for example, it's a quick, strictly physical joke that is hilarious for 90 seconds.

Lassen is particularly manic throughout the show, most of the time to great effect. His Quasimodo was repulsive, his anti-drug commercial appropriately dramatic. Adam Lucas Smith, likewise, filled a wide variety of supporting roles with aplomb. He transformed himself to such a degree that one had to check the credits to see if he was in fact the same actor in a previous sketch.

Cassandra Beckerman and Linda Vogel have a particularly funny scene as the women caught on tape for a show called "America's Funniest Real Hidden Conversations Video." Eric Rodenhiser, though amusing as Jesus, was too stiff as the straight man in the Poly-Gorp production office.

Some of the material, such as the skits about developing a sitcom for Jesus, might not suit everyone's taste. Others, like the show about a family of prostitutes (imagine "The Donna Reed Show" adapted for The Playboy Channel) probably wouldn't pass the FCC rules for broadcast TV.

But then, if you want the kind of TV "Production!" rails against, you wouldn't go to the theater.

BE THERE

"Production! (Coming Soon)," at the Bitter Truth Theatre, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. $10. (818)755-7900.

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