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Theater Review

'Sardines' Collection Sinks Teeth Into Physical Comedy

May 07, 1999|MICHAEL PHILLIPS | TIMES THEATER CRITIC

Without looking at a script, or my notes, I couldn't tell you a single line from "Oral Agreement," the demonically funny standout in the new Actors' Gang collection called "Sardines: A Tin of Ten Minute Plays." It's all about cheap physical comedy--smiling malice on one end of the drill, doped-up fear on the other--in the proud tradition of W.C. Fields' "The Dentist," "Little Shop of Horrors" and a million others.

James Boyce's sketch (scored by Esquivel--yeah!) succeeds on sheer performance wiles. An unfortunate patient (Brian T. Finney, a prime sad-sack) has the bad luck to visit the chair overseen by Kirk Ward's gleefully vindictive dentist. Ward's partner in pain administration, and a few other things: Kate Mulligan, a witty, toothy comic presence. (Mulligan's charming renditions of Noel Coward songs bookend the evening.)

Brent Hinkley directs "Oral Agreement" deftly. It hasn't a thought in its head except reactivating an ancient vaudevillian premise, and it does so in high style.

"Sardines" pays off in its comedy more so than its dramatic efforts. "One Zero," written and performed by Chris Bell, begins with a man seated in the audience taking a call on his cell phone. Then he takes another. And another.

Actors' Gang founding artistic director Tim Robbins contributes "Vacation," pitting a hard-to-please customer (Brian Powell) against his testy travel agent (Laurel Ollstein). The scene is nicely crafted, if not especially fresh or surprising. Overall "Sardines" bumps along unevenly. What you remember the next day is laughing, hard, at the dentist routine.

* "Sardines: A Tin of Ten Minute Plays," Actors' Gang El Centro, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thursdays through Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends May 22. $12. (323) 655-TKTS. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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