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Comedy and Errors 

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3 GUYS NAKED FROM THE WAIST DOWN

Actor's Repertory Theatre

at the Broadway Arts Center

3 Guys is a show-biz musical about a team of three stand-up comedians. You see them onstage and offstage. You follow their careers from obscurity to stardom to disillusionment. Along the way, you see them perform some very funny routines, and some not so funny, just like in a real comedy club! And, in this production, you even get to sit at a little table and drink beer. But, as Ted, the MC, warns, "If you want to smoke, too fuckin' bad."

The only problem is, you have to put up with a lot of musical comedy crap. That includes a "drama" complete with suicide and the affectation of human emotion, a "theme" (borrowed from A Chorus Line) about the elusiveness of success and the prostitution of talent, and "music"--23 breathy, schmaltzy songs meant to inspire sentiment or bounding optimism, as the case may be. But wait, that's not all. You also get the kitchen sink of comedy, including politically unfashionable impressions of Jews and Japanese, polka-dot boxer shorts, drag scenes, and everything but an attachment that makes julienne fries. By the end of the evening you have so much more than you bargained for that this show might as well be entitled 3 Guys in Search of an Editor.

In short, this is a terrible play with some dreadful music, periodically blessed with some fine comedy routines.

The play opens as Ted (played by Andrei Hartt) warms up the audience with some standard MC patter sprinkled with just enough originality to make his act funny and interesting in itself. There's a gleam in Ted's eye, and you get the feeling that he's putting you on, that he's not so much playing the role of an MC as satirizing it. But this first impression is misleading and ultimately disappointing. Whatever satire Ted projects is part of his act and not the overall approach of this play. Just as you begin to appreciate the mischief and ambiguity of the onstage Ted, he steps down and becomes the two-dimensional offstage Ted specified by playwright Jerry Colker.

What Colker wants to do is contrast the onstage silliness of stand-up comedy with the hopes, ambitions, and real-life problems of the offstage comedian. But Colker's contrast is lopsided. He delivers some hilarious stand-up routines, but his shallow characters don't hold up the serious end of the play.

Kenny (played by Matt Kellogg) is a good example. You have to accept Kenny as is, a "Zen Catholic" with an unspecified psychological problem. There are violent, and sometimes suicidal, themes to Kenny's routines, including a hanging, a decapitation, and King Kong's attack on Tokyo (in which Kenny plays all the parts). His routines are frantic, and I once got to laughing so hard that I thought an alien was going to jump out of my chest. The offstage Kenny is so vulnerable and sappy, however, that it was obvious I was being asked to express some major empathy here. But how? I know nothing about Kenny, except that he's a zany, wacky, psychotic sort of guy, indistinguishable in almost every way from Murdoch, the pilot in The A-Team.

Mike Raimondi plays the third guy, Phil, a law school dropout trying to make it as a comedian. Phil's act--"I'm an angry guy on a lovely day"--is the single best sustained routine of the evening. That may be my own idiosyncratic sense of humor talking here, but I still think there's something universally funny, and deeply gratifying, about the way Phil addresses common urban annoyances--such as dog shit, boom boxes, and rude motorists--with an avenging baseball bat to the kneecaps. The angry guy's routine also works well because it's punctuated by a little angry-guy tune, tersely sung through clenched teeth. Of the 23 songs in the show, this is the only one that does what it's supposed to do: heighten comedy with music. The rest are pure garbage.

Especially hideous is "A Father Now," another of Phil's songs. This song commemorates Phil's passage into fatherhood with the realization that this new responsibility means he'll have to cling to his humiliating but high-paying job on a prime-time sitcom. This grotesque yuppie anthem serves two obvious purposes: to spritz the play down with some bittersweet sentimentalism, and to foreshadow Phil's ultimate sellout. The song is just stupid and sententious enough to offer something for everyone caught in life's difficult compromise. But, after all, that's what musical comedy is all about, isn't it? Credit goes to Michael Rupert for his ridiculously pretentious score, and to Jerry Colker for his generic brand lyrics.

The drama isn't as horrid as the music, but it runs a close second, and it's altogether predictable. Three comedians team up and strive for, and attain, the rotten fruits of success. Their rise is the reward of risk and self-belief, and their fall comes from the betrayal of their artistic spirit. So why should it take over two hours to slog through a plot this thin? Sure, director Eric Nightengale tries to keep you awake with lots of running about, by staging scenes behind the audience and in the corners of the room. But, after a certain point, I stopped swiveling around in my seat to watch. I guess I already knew where the play was going, and had arrived there well ahead of the playwright.

Still, I'm left with respect and appreciation for the cast. I gave up, but they continued to give. I'm not saying they're professional singers and dancers, but they don't embarrass themselves either. And, no, their characterizations aren't all that impressive, but who can blame them, given this script? They do make good stand-up comedians, and if someone edited out about an hour and a half of this godawful musical, these three guys could reduce you to a quivering blob of mucus. So, if you want to hit this show for the highlights, take along some beer money and a patient attitude, and maybe a seat cushion as well.

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