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Reproducing Thurber's Humor

July 06, 2001|JANA J. MONJI

"A Thurber Carnival" made its Broadway debut in 1960. This revival at the El Portal Center for the Arts' Circle Theatre tries too hard, and some of the gentle chuckles are lost in the slightly off-kilter timing and the overly earnest affectations.

James Thurber was a humorist who wrote for the New Yorker. His short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" was made into a Danny Kaye movie. Jack Lemmon portrayed a Thurber-like character in "The War Between Men and Women." William Windom created and starred in a critically acclaimed television series, "My World and Welcome to It," based on Thurber's cartoons and writings.

Director Todd Nielsen keeps the play in the early '60s: Couples dance with wide smiles and over-sized martini glasses and spout off Thurber witticisms. But instead of being hip and new, Thurber's once-familiar tales have a cozy, quaintness of yesteryear.

Aaron Harper's set design is simple--multilevel platforms decorated with reproductions of Thurber's simplistic drawings. Perhaps it was an off night, but this show misses the whimsy suggested in Thurber's words and illustrations.

* "A Thurber Carnival," El Portal Center for the Arts Circle Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Saturdays-Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends July 15. $20. (818) 508-4200, (800) 233-3123. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

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