Review: ‘The Works of War Babies’

To memorialize War Babies, West Coast improv and sketch mainstays of the '70s and '80s, members Renny Temple and Caryn Kaye have assembled seven likable youngsters in an obvious labor of love to re-create almost two dozen venerable set pieces.

To memorialize War Babies, West Coast improv and sketch mainstays of the ’70s and ’80s, members Renny Temple and Caryn Kaye have assembled seven likable youngsters in an obvious labor of love to re-create almost two dozen venerable set pieces. One leaves the lively revue entertained and completely persuaded of the original troupe’s standard of excellence, even if the new recruits don’t always live up to it.

This selection of sketches developed through improv doesn’t much show War Babies’ finger on the political pulse. One eerily contemporary bit about terrorists in purgatory stands apart from a wealth of material on relationship wars and pop culture, the best boasting twist endings based on comically faulty assumptions.

Three buddies at a class reunion can’t cope with the changes time has wrought on a fourth. A married couple misinterprets a pair of hitchhikers as predators out of “Deliverance.” Two laconic mechanics take a clueless Mercedes owner under their wing (“What’s that?” “That’s a tire. Ya got four of them, one at each corner, and another in the trunk.” “Oh, no kidding?”).

A wicked six-minute distillation of “A Chorus Line,” complete with sassy poses and overemotional attitudes, is rendered timeless through the recent touring revival.

At almost 2½ hours there’s simply too much material, especially in the absence of the unique personalities that developed it: the distinctively wry, self-effacing style one associates with founding War Babies like Temple, Peter Riegert, MaryEdith Burrell and Archie Hahn.

The youthful company, more gifted as physical comics than verbal farceurs, tries hard and sometimes too hard. Pantomime and slo-mo bits work well, but thesps rush dialogue scenes to emotional peaks not yet prepared for; most are too quick to dial up to full volume.

The clever “Do Re Mi” sketch, and one on a marriage counselor’s quarreling clients, would be doubly effective if modulated to believably expressive levels.

Evening is rounded out by a long video clip from War Babies’ final ’80s live show, a sidesplitting improvised opera inspired by audience suggestions of “stuttering drill sergeants in Detroit.” It’s a riot and may inspire the new kids, watching as avidly as we do, to keep working toward a similar level of showmanship.

The Works of War Babies

6470 Theater, the Complex; 42 seats; $20 top

Production

A Renny Temple and Caryn Kaye presentation of a revue in two acts, written and directed by Temple.

Creative

Lighting, Kathi O'Donohue. Opened, reviewed July 17, 2008; runs through Aug. 3. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.

Cast

With: Gwendolyn Druyor, Brian Girard, Sy Ozcan, Matt Ryan, Robert Scheid, Jessica Kaye Temple, Diana Toshiko.
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