Twenty-two jackals — I mean, actors — have run up a $1,200 bill at a posh hotel in 1930s Manhattan, and their producer, Gordon (Derek Manson), is desperate to skip out on the tab. Fat chance with manager (Phillip William Brock) and corporate heavy (Charles Dennis) blocking their escape. Since Gordon, the director (Joe Liss), the playwright (Dustin Eastman) and the rabble are on the 19th floor, they can't jump. Better options are playing sick, suffering a hunger strike, faking suicide and dabbling in bank fraud. John Murray and Allen Boretz's madcap comedy ran for 14 months on Broadway in 1937, and if the quips and the wise guys (especially Daniel Escobar's cheery lug) smack of a Marx Brothers movie, that's because it was one in 1938. Except for Eastman's guileless writer, these starving artists aren't suffering for the sake of art; their play seems secondary to saving their own skins. When real talent, a Russian waiter who studied Chekhov (Elya Baskin, excellent), auditions into their hotel room, his breathtaking monologue goes ignored. This three-act contraption gets going in Act 2 after co-directors Bjørn Johnson and Ron Orbach ease the cast into the comedy's chirpy rhythm. It's a slender pleasure, despite the directors' argument that it makes us reflect on our current economic crisis. Better just to enjoy the physical comedy that makes full use of every corner of Victoria Proffit's suite set; the ensemble leaps over furniture and gobbles down smuggled food like wild, wise-cracking animals. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 12. (323) 882-6912, openfist.org.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Jan. 21. Continues through March 12, 2011
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