Review: ‘Manhattan Punchline’s Best of the Fest Goes West’

New York City theater company Manhattan Punchline closed shop earlier this year; show exported to the Coast Playhouse is a set of one-act plays -- skits, most of them -- from several of the 13-year-old group's eight annual festivals, restaged for Los Angeles. Two-hour show passes quickly, with more than a few laughs.

New York City theater company Manhattan Punchline closed shop earlier this year; show exported to the Coast Playhouse is a set of one-act plays — skits, most of them — from several of the 13-year-old group’s eight annual festivals, restaged for Los Angeles. Two-hour show passes quickly, with more than a few laughs.

Despite their origin, none of the individual pieces has a specifically New York feeling. Funniest of the bunch, Peter Tolan’s “Pillow Talk,” takes place in an Arizona trailer park. Final show of set, “Trudy & Paul Come to the Rescue,” is set in a Long Island home, but you’d have to consult the program to know it.

However significant this may be, three of the one-acts finds at least one character undergoing a rather abrupt change of persona; two of those involve male characters taking off their pants.

All five “plays” and most of the actors’ technique seems firmly grounded in improv theater, with a spur-of-the-moment feel to much of the writing and a tendency for the cast members to punch their lines.

One exception is “Pillow Talk,” featuring Joshua Malina and Thomas Haden Church (the slow-witted mechanic from NBC-TV’s “Wings”) as a pair of pals traveling cross-country by automobile.

Spending the night in the mobile home of Church’s grandmother, the two are forced to share a tiny bedroom with one bed. Machismo

turns to mutual suspicion with amusing and believable consequences in the least broadly played one-act of the evening.

Tom Alan Robbins makes a strong impression in two sketches. He portrays a frustrated bird wrangler on a photo shoot in “Portfolio,” with Dea Lawrence as the skittish French model and an offstage Peter Zapp as the hysterical photographer.

In “Trudy & Paul Come to the Rescue,” Robbins is a nervous bridegroom having second thoughts about the wedding with Lawrence–notable in a quite different character than the French model–as the bride.

Tom Gallop and Michael Zelniker are Robbins’ character’s pals; Lesly Kahn plays the bride’s friend, Trudy, charmingly.

Zapp plays a fidgety insurance investigator presenting the tablecloth used at the Last Supper in “The Tablecloth of Turin.”

In “Sure Thing,” Zelniker attempts to pick up Becky London; David Ives’s script examines their thoughts and actions in a series of imaginative quick retakes that could be an old Nichols and May routine.

Tech credits are unambitious but sufficient, exception being Robert Murphy’s imaginative and resourceful use of sound and music.

Manhattan Punchline's Best of the Fest Goes West

(Coast Playhouse, West Hollywood; 99 seats; $ 20 top)

Production

Drew Dennett presents five one-act plays: "Portfolio" by Tom Donaghy, directed by Robin Saex; "Pillow Talk" by Peter Tolan, directed by Dennis Erdman; "Sure Thing" by David Ives, directed by Steve Kaplan; "The Tablecloth of Turin" by Ron Carlson, directed by Kaplan; "Trudy & Paul Come to the Rescue" by Michael Aschner, directed by Kaplan.

Creative

Sets, Craig Lathrop, Merry-Beth Noble; costumes, Shon Le Blanc; lights, Ilya Mindlin; sound, Robert Murphy. Executive producer, Anne van Leynseele; entire production under the supervision of Kaplan. Reviewed Aug. 22; runs indefinitely.

Cast

Cast: Thomas Haden Church, Tim Gallop, Lesly Kahn, Dea Lawrence, Becky London , Joshua Malina, Tom Alan Robbins, Peter Zapp, Michael Zelniker.
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