With her chrome-plated red bob, manicured nails and chiseled, toothy smile, private acting coach Beverly Winwood (Susan Yeagly) checks in industry guests for the second annual showcase of her students’ best scenes. Thad Ripple (Nat Faxon) sits beside her in a torso-revealing floral shirt and bushy Afro, circa 1972. “Are you with the industry?” he asks. “Cool, bro, enjoy the show,” he adds, with cringe-inducing familiarity. Before and after the showcase, the actors distribute their résumés in the lobby. (One cites a YouTube clip as an example of his experience. Other credits: “Film TV & Radio: Squirrel Season, Hunter; and Back Massage Techniques, Charles.” Entering the theater, the audience is offered free potato chips from a large bowl wielded by an actor/waiter, posted in the threshold. Danger and Lewis J. Poole (Jordan Black and Phil Lamarr) — who met while incarcerated in a “Scared Straight” program — eviscerate a Happy/Biff scene from Death of a Salesman with sudden bursts of inexplicable melodrama, bereft of all emotional sense and gilded with hollow posturing. Tim N. Gunn (Patrick Bristow) suffers a curse-laden and violent mental breakdown during his performance of the Abbot and Costello sketch, “Who’s on First?” when his scene partner, Pu Ping Chow (Karen Maruyama), bludgeons rhythm and sense with her halting, ill-timed delivery, which is distinguished by her meaningless grin — an attempt to mask both her terror and confusion. The 20 actors are uniformly brilliant lampoonists, and Tony Sepulveda’s staging rises above last year’s mere mockery of the individuals and their pointless ambition. In one of the evening’s highlights, The Captain (Tim Bagley) — a recent stroke victim confined to a wheelchair — recites with a nasal twang Tom’s play-closing monologue from The Glass Menagerie

while attempting to light three candles from a candelabra placed in front of his wheelchair at a distance requiring him to wince in pain through his recitation of Tennessee Williams poetical homage, while straining with every fiber of his being to plant a lighted match upon the candles. “Blow out your candles, Laura,” he intones, having finally accomplished his first task of lighting them. He blows, and blows and blows, approaching hyperventilation. The woman next to me almost asphyxiated herself from laughter. This is more than a cheap shot at talentless actors and the system that exploits them, which is certainly part of its charm; this is a physical comedy about reaching for the unreachable, one long, almost metaphysical, joke about failure. It has no respect, little dignity and does not redeem the human spirit in any way, whatsoever. It’s one of the funniest shows around.
Mondays, 8 p.m. Starts: Aug. 4. Continues through Aug. 25, 2008

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