Priest Jesse Merlin hears David Haverty's increasingly profane… (Shaela Cook )
“That's not funny, that's sick!” was once a mission statement for National Lampoon’s assaults on propriety and good taste.
Some of that is-nothing-sacred irreverence still haunts the theatrical debut of “Sketches from the National Lampoon” at the Hayworth Theatre, though too often as a ghost of former greatness.
Authenticity abounds under the auspices of producer Matty Simmons (who ran the business end of National Lampoon’s various print, record, stage and film successes during its heyday in the 1970s and '80s).
But the decision to steer clear of material that might seem too dated proves an overly cautious limitation — topical satire was a key element in the Lampoon’s best material. Even so, the included Rod Serling-esque PSA about marijuana dangers and a parody of Les Crane’s pompous 1971 “Desiderata” aren’t exactly ripped from the headlines.
What the hardworking nine-member cast primarily has to work with are recurring blackouts culled from the "Radio Hour" shows.
Many involve awkward confessions — crank calls to a talk radio host (Pat Towne, who also directs); letters to an advice columnist (Erin Matthews); various ways to tell a friend (Jesse Merlin) you’ve had an affair with his wife; a gay teen (John Milhiser) outing himself to his creepily wholesome family; and a literal (and increasingly profane) church confessional by versatile comic heavyweight David Haverty, who channels some of John Belushi’s earthiness, particularly in a Marlon Brando “Streetcar Named Desire” bit.
It’s telling that the biggest laughs come from new songs penned for this production by Richard Levinson (who accompanies on piano): Haverty’s stalker obsessed with a TV financial pundit, and Darrin Revitz’s raunchy coming-of-age ballad.
Drawing more from the franchise’s musical canon might have been a better idea than sketch comedy -- the Woodstock parody, “Lemmings,” for example, or the Bob Dylan pitch for "Those Fabulous Sixties," in all its infomercial prescience.
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“Sketches from the National Lampoon,” The Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 17. $30. (323) 337-1546 or www.brownpapertickets.com. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.