Writer-performer Joan Rivers' confessional play shows the comic legend as both an unapologetically shticky standup preoccupied with female anatomy and the effects of plastic surgery, and as an existential show-business survivor who's still going strong at 74 in an industry ruled by men and obsessed with youth. These two conflicting impulses create a tense balancing act that Rivers, under Bart DeLorenzo's soft-touch direction, navigates with ease and intimacy. The show (co-written by Rivers with Douglas Bernstein and Denis Markell) imagines Rivers stuck in a B-list dressing room shortly before she is to begin interviewing Oscar-night arrivals with daughter Melissa. Joining her are Kenny (Adam Kulbersh), an inept neophyte producer, and Svetlana (Emily Kosloski), an equally clueless emigre makeup artist. Rivers' references to Svetlana as “Anastasia,” “Rasputin” and “Sputnik” — her shtick impulses — are too archaically old-school to be offensive. Instead, she hits her stride when recalling a rough-and-tumble life as a struggling comedian and talk-show host who endured both the betrayal of friend Johnny Carson and the wrath of Barry Diller. After the suicide of her husband Edgar, she reinvents herself as the queen of the Academy Awards' red carpet, which brings us back to the show's setting. The 110-minute, intermissionless evening, however, feels overly long, which could've been avoided if Work in Progress had been developed strictly as a one-woman show. Gay Kenny, innocent Svetlana and icy blond TV exec Evan (Tara Joyce) are mildly funny stereotypes, but they remain two-dimensional shadows infringing on a real-life memoir.
Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 & 8:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Starts: Feb. 13. Continues through April 6, 2008

LA Weekly