Oct. 1, 2004





Humor trapped in a time warp


If satire is what closes on Saturday night, then Henry Fielding's 18th century burlesques--apparently trenchant enough in their time to make even Jonathan Swift bust a gut--are way past their sell-by date.


Though it was his political lampoons that got him run off the stage (from which he turned, happily, to novel writing), Fielding got his biggest laughs at the expense of theatrical and literary icons of the day.


And if his politics seem remote to us, his aesthetic references are positively alien.


This is a problem for "The Author's Thumb," writer-director Dennis Gersten's shotgun marriage of two Fielding spoofs, "The Author's Farce" and "The Tragedy of Tragedies, or The Life and Death of Tom Thumb, the Great." Nearly every line of the latter is a send-up of works well-known to Fielding's contemporaries--sniggering in-jokes that can mean little to anyone who hasn't brushed up lately on their Spencer or Dryden.


That leaves Gersten's eager but uneven cast to mug and mince about in period wigs and breeches as if there's something very funny going on. The result often suggests Ed Wood doing a Restoration-comedy version of a fairy tale, particularly whenever the moptop Tom Thumb (Blake Walker, on kneepads) and an Elvira-as-Valkyrie giantess (Noel Evangelisti, on platform shoes) are onstage.


The only consistently strong performer is the Bert Lahr-ish Jon Mullich, in two supporting roles. With his phlegmatic delivery and an uncanny ability to raise his eyebrows while squinting, Mullich somehow makes some theatrical sense of this strange brew. As for the rest--well, I guess you had to be there.


"The Author's Thumb," Theatre Unlimited at T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. $15. (866) 811-4111. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.