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'Sketchy at Best' Packs In Solid Laughs

September 25, 1998|PHILIP BRANDES

Don't be fooled by the self-deprecating title (or the folksy Fremont Centre Theatre venue)--"Sketchy at Best" is anything but. Originally a workshop creation for Interact Theatre Company by members Lance Davis and Alan Brooks, these satirical vignettes have as much affinity with the cerebral conundrums of David Ives and Steven Wright as with the typical lowbrow zaniness of sketch comedy.

Respecting audiences' intelligence pays big laugh dividends as writer-director Davis and co-star Brooks take aim at contemporary societal foibles. A talk show focuses on the beleaguered L.A. subway ("Underground Cover-up?") and the problem that "people who live where people want to go don't want them to go there." The solution: an insulating Wall of Malls along the route. An institute training employees in the fine points of rude behavior (everything from mispronouncing customers' names to vague arm-waving at other departments) taps our worst suspicions about the declining standards in customer service.

The show's masterpiece is a recurring, escalating debate between two thickly accented Scotsmen who drive themselves to near apoplexy over the O.J. trial and later the Clinton investigation, employing identical arguments for both crises du jour.

Davis adroitly plays his sad-sack features against Brooks' confident good looks in a scene about an insecure actor at the mercy of a smug dialect coach, and again as they portray the entire local police department (all two of them) in "South Pasadena Blue."

A scene about prejudice against the disabled is obvious and contrived, and a bogus charity foundation interview needs pruning, but these occasional misfires are well within tolerance. Strategic changes of pace include dramatic recitals (from Shakespeare and Christopher Fry) and a piano tour de force (Chopin's "Ocean" Etude in this case) from the repertoire of world-class accompanist Larry Wong. "Sketchy at Best" is hilarious at worst.

*

* "Sketchy at Best," Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3:30 p.m. Ends Oct. 11. $15. (888) 441-5979. Running time: 2 hours.

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