Best-known for their TV and film work, writers Garry Marshall and Lowell Ganz have whipped up a souffle of a play, with what little meat exists all but overwhelmed by froth. In expert comedy hands, that's not necessarily a bad thing. With just one set and three strong roles, "Wrong Turn at Lungfish" seems destined to become a community-and dinner-theater staple.

Best-known for their TV and film work, writers Garry Marshall and Lowell Ganz have whipped up a souffle of a play, with what little meat exists all but overwhelmed by froth. In expert comedy hands, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With just one set and three strong roles, “Wrong Turn at Lungfish” seems destined to become a community-and dinner-theater staple.

Current run at the Coronet is set to close June 28, with a national tour and Broadway clearly in mind. Star power of George C. Scott, Tony Danza and Laurie Metcalf should pull ‘em in; strong script should keep ‘em in their seats.

Scott plays a widowed college dean, hospitalized for a terminal illness of which blindness is an early stage. Anita (Metcalf) comes in once a week to read to the ill; she and a student nurse (Kelli Williams) are the only two people who are still speaking to the irascible invalid.

Set-up, with the unlettered Anita a lot smarter and stronger than she thinks, vaguely echoes “Educating Rita”; Penny Marshall as Laverne and the late Judy Holliday come to mind as prototypes. Scott’s blustery intellectual is right out of “The Man Who Came to Dinner.”

Danza plays Anita’s boyfriend, a less than brilliant low-level freelance enforcer. A sociopath, he’s alternately charming and threatening–whichever better suits his needs.

As co-writer and director, Marshall keeps the gags a-coming; most of the depth comes near the end of the second act. Scott’s character is written to be overacted; he complies nicely until the final scene, where he calms down appropriately.

The only current cast member who appeared in play’s 1990 debut at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater, Metcalf plays Anita winningly, even if her broad Noo Yawk accent is something less than totally credible. Her character’s unconventional way of warding off sexual harassment at the office is an unabashedly unenlightened hoot.

Danza, in his stage debut, doesn’t even show up until Act II, and his character isn’t that much of a stretch from his roles on “Taxi” and “Who’s the Boss?”

On the other hand, he’s on sure footing as he takes several of the play’s best lines and runs with them. As the exasperated nurse, Williams is probably on stage longer than Danza, but is the only cast member to receive below-the-title billing.

Play is fraught with literary allusions; certainly moreso than any TV show that isn’t “Northern Exposure” or on PBS.

Most are on a high school lit-class level: the climactic T.S. Eliot reference , for instance, is several lines from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

Opening-night audience picked most of them up quickly enough, though when Metcalf’s character told Scott that she wasn’t able to locate a copy of “that baseball book …’The Red and the Black’ by Casey Stengel,” a second wave of laughter greeted Scott’s impatient correction, “Stendahl!”

Title is a gag alluding to Darwin’s theory of evolution–not that it matters.

Wrong Turn at Lungfish

Coronet Theater; 272 seats; $28.50 top

Production

A comedy in two acts by Garry Marshall and Lowell Ganz. Directed by Marshall.

Creative

Sets and lighting, Albert Brenner; costumes, Erin Quigley; sound, Richard Woodbury. Produced by James B. Freydberg, Jeffrey Ash, Jean Van Tuyle. Opened, reviewed May 21, 1992.

Cast

Peter Ravenswaal - George C. Scott Nurse - Kelli Williams Anita Merendino - Laurie Metcalf Dominic De Caesar - Tony Danza

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