Laughter is part of the formula
Standout performers in a two-night package show help carry on the Groundlings' reputation as a source of fun.
By Rob Kendt
Special to The Times
Dec 24 2004
Hollywood's red-bricked Groundling Theatre, which turns out successful
comedy writers and actors with by now predictable regularity, may be
the most reliable talent factory since the heyday of the Peking Opera.
So perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that its sketch shows have become
nearly as ritualized over the years. "The Groundlings 30th Anniversary
Box Set," a new two-night package show, is no exception: Both "volumes"
are 90-minute showcases of three- to five-minute scenes, peppered with
a few improvs, with Willie Etra's tight band rocking through the
As always, the short-sketch format means that it's
hard to have a bad time — faltering sketches get a quick hook and it's
on to the next — and equally hard to be surprised, or to feel a sense
of dramatic development over an evening of unrelated highs and lows.
What we can develop over the course of a show, though, is a strong
taste for a few breakout performers. You don't have to be a talent
scout to recognize that the wispy Jim Rash handily dominates "Box Set."
A bald, bespectacled imp who's typecast on TV as an Everygeek, Rash is
blessedly unmoored from type here, assaying over the two nights a
flouncing puppeteer in a blond wig, a loopily childlike trucker, a
loudmouthed assembly-line worker, a bookish petty thief and a smilingly
terrible solo-show actor. He's that rare performer who combines an
utterly peculiar sensibility with an unerring sense of audience
He's not alone onstage by any means: Kristen Wiig
is another wizard of versatility, mostly in hilariously wilting
supporting roles; Jeremy Rowley's sharp eye for the finer shadings of
absurdity comes through in all of his sketches, particularly in his
mercilessly pathetic portrait of a plug-dumb job applicant at a
Washington Mutual Bank; Melissa McCarthy's fearless, almost perky gift
for effrontery infuses her various unglamorous turns; and Nat Faxon
makes a funny lug in several scenes, usually assisted by unabashedly
Injecting a tetchy gay sensibility into the
relentlessly straight Groundlings milieu is Mitch Silpa with a pointed
parody of the Exodus "ex-gay" program and a saucy scene of restaurant
crypto-cruising. Typifying the troupe's more typical guy's-guy team
players are the likes of stocky Damon Jones, bright Jim Cashman,
laconic Jordan Black and tall, unflappable Brian Palermo, who glides
assuredly through his last hurrah as a Groundling.
difficult to generalize about the tone and temperature of such
disparate, unconnected sketches, except to say that they're
particularly dry and cool this time out and refreshingly free of the
sort of character merchandising one sometimes witnesses on the stage
that launched Pee-wee Herman and the Spartan cheerleaders. Indeed, a
sketch like Hugh M. Davidson's "El Viejo y el Mar," in which a
stone-faced Latin actor performs a condensed version of Hemingway's
classic in elemental Spanish, is SCTV-esque conceptual comedy that
dares us not to laugh.
No chance we'll take that dare anytime
soon. The Groundlings sketch formula remains as close to a guarantee of
fun as you'll find in show business.
'The Groundlings 30th Anniversary Box Set' Where:
Groundling Theatre, 7307 Melrose Ave., Hollywood When:
Vol. 1, 8 p.m. Fridays; Vol. 2, 8 and 10 p.m. Saturdays, indefinitely. Closed Saturday, Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. Price:
(323) 934-4747 or www.groundlings.com