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Out of the Trees

Monty Python's late Graham Chapman was a master of sketch comedy, so the discovery of his "lost" material must have thrilled the zany folks at Dad's Garage Theater Co. in Atlanta. Working with Chapman's estate, they have adapted 20 of his little-known scenes into a show titled "Out of the Trees." The result, alas, wouldn't make the cut for the Flying Circus. Often frustrating and only occasionally brilliant, the scenes are not, for the most part, comic gems.

With:
With: George Faughnan, Anita Loomis, Doyle Reynolds, Tim Stoltenberg, Anne Towns.

Monty Python’s late Graham Chapman was a master of sketch comedy, so the discovery of his “lost” material must have thrilled the zany folks at Dad’s Garage Theater Co. in Atlanta. Working with Chapman’s estate, they have adapted 20 of his little-known scenes into a show titled “Out of the Trees.” The result, alas, wouldn’t make the cut for the Flying Circus. Often frustrating and only occasionally brilliant, the scenes are not, for the most part, comic gems.

Mostly we feel Chapman straining. Bits about animals in the Olympics and surgery on the subway substitute randomness for thought, while others flog a single joke — like a fascist country’s joyless travel agent — with desperation. The worst of the bunch, a ham-fisted parody titled “Emergency Room Chat Show,” delivers yet another caricature of fame-obsessed Americans without offering any significant insight.

Thankfully, there are a few moments when his political barbs sting. The excellent “Shopping at the Speed of Light,” for instance, satirizes colonialism with two words: When a woman contracts a disease she’s only just “invented,” her companion retorts, “Diseases aren’t invented, they’re discovered. Like Africa.” Such effortless wit is so rare in the show that it registers as especially satisfying.

To their credit, the cast tackles even the weakest material with unflagging zeal. Though some performers overact to distraction, Dad’s regulars George Faughnan and Anne Towns stand out by using restraint, barely repressing their hysteria beneath stuffy demeanors. The highlight, however, is Doyle Reynolds, whose impressive range of movements and vocal tics gives each of his doddering biddies (there are at least three) a distinct form of dementia.

Reynolds’ precision is matched by director Sean Daniels’ staging. He keeps the pace feisty by moving his actors fluidly across Lizz Dorsey’s set (divided into a living room, a basement and a TV studio) and into the audience. Company-created transitional materials also are well executed and give the show a coherent shape.

The troupe never flinches from the risk great comedy requires. But their try-it-and-see enthusiasm can’t overcome Chapman’s weaker efforts. Sometimes it’s best to let sleeping skits lie.

Out of the Trees

Dad's Garage Theater Co., Atlanta; 140 seats; $20 top

Production: A Dad's Garage Theater Co. presentation, in association with Jim Yoakum of the Graham Chapman Archives, of a play in two acts by Graham Chapman. Directed by Sean Daniels.

Creative: Set, Lizz Dorsey; costumes, Carrie Lynn Duncan; lighting, Karen Parsons; sound, Rene Dellefont; music, Joel Abbott; stage manager, Leslye Kahn. Artistic director, Daniels. Opened Sept. 19, 2003. Reviewed Sept. 27. Running time: 2 hours

Cast: With: George Faughnan, Anita Loomis, Doyle Reynolds, Tim Stoltenberg, Anne Towns.

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