In a poignant and peerless performance, Jason Alexander wrests timeless relevance from Neil Simon's 1971 period comedy. Middle-aged Mel (Alexander) and his loving and accommodating wife, Edna (Gina Hecht), live in a Manhattan highrise with paper-thin walls and faulty plumbing. A kvetch without equal, Mel's outrage at noisy neighbors, smelly garbage, a defective air conditioner and various other urban ills reaches full bombast after the couple's apartment is burgled of everything even their liquor and their Valium. The situation turns even more dire after Mel confesses to Edna that he's lost his job, and his native excitability gives way to a full-fledged breakdown. Directed by Glenn Casale with set, lighting and sound by Stephen Gifford, Jared A. Sayeg and Philip G. Allen respectively this is a handsome production of what is neither one of Simon's best nor wittiest scripts. But from the moment the lights come up, Alexander is on, generating laugh after laugh even as he mines the pathos behind his character's ceaseless tirades like Jackie Gleason at his best. In Act 2, a family powwow convened between Mel's three flaky sisters (Annie Korzen, Deedee Rescher and Carol Ita White) and his brother, Harry (Ron Orbach), detours the story back into the realm of shtick. While everyone is entertaining, Orbach is excellent; as with Alexander's performance, his blustery blowhard displays that combination of depth and timing that is the mark of consummate skill. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd; Wed.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 & 7 p.m.; Wed. & Sat. 2 p.m.; Tue., May 3, 2 & 8 p.m.; thru May 15. (818) 508-4200, elportaltheatre.com.
Sat., April 23, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m.; Wednesdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Tue., May 3, 2 & 8 p.m. Starts: April 23. Continues through May 15, 2011