Increasingly, the company has abandoned topical and political humor in favor of more bite-size, personal humor. While the loss of comedy with a social and political edge is unfortunate, it has been replaced by a developing honesty and sharpness of characterizationin the company's material.

Increasingly, the company has abandoned topical and political humor in favor of more bite-size, personal humor. While the loss of comedy with a social and political edge is unfortunate, it has been replaced by a developing honesty and sharpness of characterizationin the company’s material.

In “Siblings,” for example, written by Kattan and performed by Kattan, Coolidge and Jim Wise, the players capture some of the universal truths and feelings behind first dates and sibling rivalries. While somewhat exaggerated, the characters and situation are grounded in a core reality and are therefore much funnier than the self-consciously weird brand of humor that often passes for comedy on stage and screen.

TX: TX:Groundlings Theatre presents an evening of comedy sketches and improvisation; writers, John Cervenka, Jennifer Coolidge, Roy Jenkins, Chris Kattan, Michael McDonald, Karen Maruyama, Mary Jo Smith, Chase Winton, Jim Wise; director, Melanie Graham; Even “Lindsey’s Special Day,” written by Wise and performed by Wise, Mary Jo Smith and Roger Eschbacher, has an important kernel of truth in its portrayal of a hypersensitive man who is allergic to everything, even affection. A descendent of Wise’s inventive “Fragile Boy” sketch of earlier shows, the current version seems more refined.

Other outstanding sketches include “Good Night,” in which Kattan and Coolidge display exquisite comic timing as the victim and perpetrator of a first date, and “Pop Goes the Weasel,” in which Coolidge portrays an ungrateful boss whose employees throw her a surprise birthday party. Both were written by the talented Kattan and Coolidge.

Smith and Chase Winton do a lovely turn as two older women mourning the death of Dean Martin and their other Rat Pack idols in “Leaving Las Vegas.” Karen Maruyama, Roy Jenkins and Kattan also are hilarious in “Meeting Mom,” in which a bewildered teenager is introduced to his friend’s very unusual mother.

One of the highlights of the evening, as with past Groundlings shows, is the wizardry of Wise in his show-stopping improvisational song work.

However, the standouts of the evening are Coolidge and Kattan, who show verve and versatility in writing and performing. While they only go one-on-one in a single sketch, there’s a hint of a ’90s Nichols and May in their drop-dead timing and carefully crafted characters.

Groundlings: Chains Required

Production

Groundlings: Chains Required (Groundlings Theatre, West Hollywood; 99 seats; $ 17.50 top)

Crew

Musical director, Willie Etra. Opened, reviewed Feb. 2 , 1996; runs through April 20. Running time: 1 hour, 35 min.

With

Cast: John Cervenka, Jennifer Coolidge, Roger Eschbacher, Roy Jenkins, Chris Kattan, Michael McDonald, Karen Maruyama, Mary Jo Smith, Chase Winton, Jim Wise. This is one of the sharpest, funniest shows in recent Groundlings history, thanks to inspired writing and performances, notably Jennifer Coolidge and Chris Kattan. After several lukewarm shows that felt like audition pieces for "Saturday Night Live," the Groundlings have again hit their stride with sketches that are quirky , alive and hilarious.
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