The new offering by the Malibu Stage Company, “The Laugh Lines,” which premiered last Friday evening, lives up to its title. This mirthful potpourri of 12 one-act plays and scenes runs the gamut from satire to wry commentary on modern life to over-the-top bawdiness. It is definitely not G-rated.
The pace is lively—the pieces range in length from five to 10 minutes to several less than 60 seconds, each followed by a blackout—and the laughter continuous. The cast of 27, some of whom take multiple roles, is comprised mostly of members of the MSC repertory company.
While not every one of the pieces is a side-splitter, “The Universal Language” by David Ives, unequivocally sings. It is a whimsical encounter between a con artist who teaches a fraudulent Esperanto-like language and a young woman seeking a cure for her stuttering. The motormouth teacher is played by Rick D. Wasserman, who also directed, and his shy but earnest pupil is Michelle Fischer. The language is a weird mélange of English words, and Wasserman’s rapid-fire delivery of it is amazing as he seems to channel Danny Kaye. Meanwhile, Fischer’s growing adeptness as she learns the “language” is hilarious.
The world of blind dating is captured in six scenes taken from Jonathan Rand’s play, “Check Please,” directed by Richard Johnson. In each scene a different couple meets on a dinner date arranged on the Internet (“Match.com”) with unfortunate but humorous consequences. The comical impact might be greater if the scenes had been presented consecutively rather than dispersed with apparent randomness throughout the production.
“How We Talk in South Boston,” by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lindsay-Abaire, deals with a chaotically dysfunctional blue-collar family. The harried Archie Bunker-type father (MSC veteran Will Carney) is a fountain of cartoonish racial intolerance and homophobia, adoration for the Boston Red Sox and four-letter words directed primarily at the New York Yankees. His family vainly tries to calm him down. The thick Boston dialect that pervades the dialog accentuates the broadness of the humor. The play’s lack of subtlety is in marked contrast to Lindsay- Abaire’s prior MSC productions, “Rabbit Hole” and “Kimberly Akimbo.” Oscar Best, another MCS veteran actor, directs the play.
“The Laugh Lines” is a replacement for another play originally scheduled to open this month that was unexpectedly cancelled last month in the midst of its preparation. In the short time available to them, Richard Johnson (until recently MSC’s Artistic Director) and Gigi Goyette did yeoman work in choosing the works to be performed and casting and staging the production. Both also do double duty as actors and directors. Overall, the acting by the large cast is uniformly excellent. The sets are minimal and appropriately showcase the performances.
“The Laugh Lines” runs through March 3rd with performances on Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoons at 5 p.m. The Malibu Stage Company is at 29243 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu (near Zuma Beach, between Kanan- Dume and Westward Beach Roads). Tickets may be purchased and information obtained at brownpapertickets.com or by calling the box office at 310.589.1998.