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THEATER REVIEW

Groundlings still soar in comic improvisation

January 10, 2003|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

There is something reassuring about the way the Groundlings continue to draw from an apparently inexhaustible font of comic talent. So they prove in "Groundlings Live at Budokan," the improvisational institution's latest offering.

Taking its title from Tokyo's premier rock arena, this edition provides a solid showcase, fashioned after a CD sampler. Under Deanna Oliver's brisk direction, the sketches and improvs alternate with rocking contributions from band members Wille Etra, Greg Kanaga and Larry Treadwell.

The talented cast, which varies at different performances, includes several heavy-hitters among its already-in-prime-time players.

One such breakout star is Melissa McCarthy, whose uproarious problem child in "Marbles" should richly repay further investigation.

The loose-limbed Kevin Kirkpatrick offers "Believe It or Not," a priceless riff on pharmaceutical commercials. In tandem with McCarthy, he nails "Gift Exchange," in which audience items serve as textual fodder.

Same-sex issues fuel the opener, "Clearing the Air," with Mitch Silpa's gay babbler unraveling Jeremy Rowley's co-worker. Rowley shines in the twisted Act 1 closer, "Seminar," playing a blend of Drs. Gene Scott and Strangelove.

Other standouts are Jim Rash's "Memento"-inspired "Flashbacks and Deja Vu" and the finale, which finds Daniele Gaither and Damon Jones turning audience relationship details into a gonzo vocal display.

True, the top-heavy structure blurs the lunatic trajectory, as do some isolated misfires. One particular stinker is "Collaboration," a deadly Rodgers & Hammerstein parody. Such lapses scarcely affect the laugh quota, though, and first-timers should flock.

*

`Groundlings Live at Budokan'

Where: Groundlings Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.

When: Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 and 10 p.m.

Runs: Indefinitely

Price: $18.50

Contact: (323) 934-9700

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

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