Voice Lessons

Justin Tanner's very funny sitcom shoots darts at a trio of characters who are tied to the dart board by their transparent lunacies and hubris, which makes it an exercise in almost pointless cruelty. (Bart DeLorenzo's broad staging may have contributed to the sense of this Punch & Judy Show masquerading as a satire.) In earlier plays like Pot Mom, Tanner revealed the unseen side of a stereotype. His skills at structure, one-liners and caricature are so sharply honed, his persistent challenging is finding something worth saying. Tanner's parody is directed at the vicious and deluded vanity of a hopelessly talentless and aging pop singer, Virginia (Laurie Metcalf), trying to claw her way to TV fame. Can a target get any easier? She cements her ambitions to a voice teacher, Nate (French Stewart), whose initial mask of respectability and ethics slithers down the greasy pole of his own personal desperation. Portraying Nate's zaftig live-in girlfriend, Maile Flanagan further inflates the farce, setting up a catfight over the forlorn and increasingly sleazy teacher. For all its petulant ambitions, the evening is wildly entertaining thanks to the cast's irrepressible talents. It's hard to see how this play would survive without these actors. With a deep and slightly nasal voice, and deadpan responses that should be copyrighted for the mountain of silent thoughts they reveal, Stewart provides the perfect foil for Metcalf's meticulously executed tornado of psychosis, and Flanagan's lovely cameo. DeLorenzo deserves credit for the comedy's sculpted timing, and Gary Guidinger's set and lighting depict with realistic detail the frayed fortress of Nate's living room. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through May 17. (323) 960-7711.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Starts: April 10. Continues through May 17, 2009