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Theater Review

Sure-Footed Sketches in `Maybe'

November 22, 2001|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Looking for Mr. or Ms. Right can be a lot like trying to locate a diamond chip in a quartz mine. Charlie Shanian and Shari Simpson illustrate the travails of modern romance in "Maybe Baby, It's You," their amusing and bittersweet two-person play, now at the Upstairs at the Coronet. ("Late Nite Catechism" shares the venue.)

The show, written by and starring the duo, consists of about 11 sketches about male-female relationships in varying stages, from dating to marriage to divorce. The common theme is the universal longing for a soul mate, and the conniptions that humans go through in their quest for true love.

Shanian and Simpson are improv comedy veterans who have both worked extensively with Gotham City Improv, a New York group. That comic training is evident throughout this smooth and sophisticated effort. No director is credited for this run, but the show played off-Broadway in 1999 and has toured since. What arrives in L.A. is a tightly wrapped package, wonderfully lighted by Greg Cohen and Jean Yves Tessier, whose rich and swirling color schemes are as diverse as the sketches themselves.

The evening opens with a crisply syncopated sequence. As a clock ticks in the background, a man and a woman define their ideal mates. At first, their standards are ludicrously specific, right down to hair color and dimple placement. Then, as time starts running out and the clock speeds up, expectations are drastically modified. What begins as a laundry list of must-haves is cut to a few hilariously basic requirements. The bottom line: Warm and breathing is the only prerequisite, and hair is negotiable.

Some of the material is a touch derivative, particularly a Seinfeld-esque scene featuring Shanian as a horrible dancer whose clumsy gyrations at a wedding reception make women hustle for the exit. And a bit about Medea on a blind date is one of those high concepts that doesn't quite pan out in the execution.

More often, however, the writing is solid, and the performers are consistently appealing. But don't expect purely feel-good sentimentality here. An underlying astringency keeps things from cloying. One scene about an elderly divorced couple conversing at their grandson's soccer match is more a one-act play than a comedy sketch, full of dramatic tension and a lovely, nostalgic segue that is genuinely moving.

Particularly charming are the man-on-the-street-style interviews that play during between-scene blackouts. For these audio segments, Shanian and Simpson hit the streets of New York and Los Angeles, interviewing real people about their romantic experiences--wacky tales from the singles trenches as funny as anything in this funny show.

"Maybe Baby, It's You," Upstairs at the Coronet, 368 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. Wednesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 9 p.m. Indefinitely. $35. (310) 657-7377. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.

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