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Review: 'Elephant Room' tricksters conjure zany sparks

Sketch comedy and magic make for a fun night in the hands of madcap performers Trey Lyford, Geoff Sobelle and Steve Cuiffo.

August 27, 2012|By Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times Theater Critic
  • Dennis Diamond is backed by Louie Magic and Daryl Hannah "Elephant Room" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.
Dennis Diamond is backed by Louie Magic and Daryl Hannah "Elephant… (Glenn Koenig, Los Angeles…)

Don't let the retro styling fool you. Although they look like comic extra rejects from a '70s variety show with some heavy metal updating, the magician-trickster-funny-men of "Elephant Room" are goofy originals, very much of our makeshift moment.

No point in trying to categorize the show, which opened Sunday at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Created by Trey Lyford, Geoff Sobelle and Steve Cuiffo, the entire production is a sleight of hand. With a smattering of magic, sketch comedy and cat-and-mouse with the audience, the trio of performers, working under the aliases Daryl Hannah, Dennis Diamond and Louie Magic, foster the illusion of a complete theatrical offering.

They succeed by the seat of their pants, which is to say through their collective free-form wits, recognizing that the only definition of theater that matters is the one that begins with giving pleasure to an audience.

Yes, there are fuzzy patches, in which the setup exceeds the payoff. A good deal of stage time is devoted to scrambling. The awkward transitions of this hybrid concoction are smoothed over by the direction of Paul Lazar, co-founder of Big Dance Theater, who doesn't so much stage "Elephant Room" as choreograph it to musical selections befitting ragtag pop cultural clowns. But the structure of the show is no more solid than freshly whipped up jello.

The men behind this funky little experiment are in direct line with their commedia dell'arte forebears. Their shtick isn't exactly stock. The only thing recycled here is their vintage clothing chosen by costume designer Christal Weatherly and the basement furniture of their Elephant Room Society club room, ostensibly carted across the country from their Paterson, N.J., headquarters and artfully arrayed by set designer Mimi Lien. Yet the sparks they generate from loose scenarios, scripted but with an improvisational freedom, hark back to the zany crowd-drawing antics of Renaissance Italy.

As talented as they are fraudulent, these huckster virtuosos are waiting for their big "This Is Spinal Tap" close-up. In the meantime, they have plenty of merchandise to hawk — T-shirts, baseball hats and other overpriced souvenirs on sale in the lobby, as their extended midshow commercial break humorously itemizes.

The magic portion of "Elephant Room" includes preparing an omelet, which might seem rather unmagical until you get a glimpse of how they slice, dice and fry. A very long balloon gets swallowed without any gagging. Milk is conjured from objects all across the set and a milk mustache appears and vanishes with a wave of the hand. Mind-reading almost astounds us.

The comedy bits include a pretend late-night phone call between Diamond and the Dalai Lama, with Diamond looking from certain angles like a missing member of the Village People and speaking in the smitten tones of a long-distance lover. A recruit from the audience is brought onstage for a first-date with Hannah. Physical comedy of a sub-slapstick kind is trotted out.

A tourniquet scene fizzles and the show could use, to rephrase Hamlet's mother's rebuke of Polonius, less patter with more art. But uniqueness in the theater is a rare commodity, and these guys are in possession of a patented, mood-brightening silliness.

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'Elephant Room'

Where: Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. (Call for exceptions.) Ends Sept. 16

Price: $20 to $50 (subject to change)

Contact: (213) 628-2772 or http://www.centertheatregroup.org/ElephantRoom

Running time: 75 minutes without an intermission

charles.mcnulty@latimes.com

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