"Comedy Tonight" at Sixth Street Playhouse Studio Theatre, Santa Rosa CA

Photos by Eric Chazankin:
Left Photo - Jesse Pennington, Autumn Mirassou
Right Photo - Laura Davies, James Pelican

Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Playhouse

Call it humor, parody, satire or any combination thereof, but “Comedy Tonight” is a pleasing collection of six offbeat, existentialistic short comedies by five award-winning contemporary American playwrights that will appeal to a smart and sophisticated audience.

The program gets off to a bright start with “Sure Thing” by David Ives, which deals with the dating game and how much better it all would be if we could just hit the reset button. Autumn Mirassou and Jesse Pennington deliver outstanding chemistry and timing with their slyly flirtatious performances. Judging from the guffaws, it appears to be an audience favorite.

Another delight is “The Tarantino Variation” by Seth Kramer, featuring three wise guys armed with nifty black suits, lots of attitude - and handguns. Ray Morgan, James Pelican and Jesse Pennington dance a warrior’s ballet with grimly determined silliness.

“Ties That Bind Featuring the Astounding Krispinsky” by Eric Coble is a compact and well-performed comic exercise on the meaning of life. The rubber-faced James Pelican has a kind of crazy, scene-stealing intensity, teamed with solid performances from Terry Gault and Autumn Mirassou.

Also among the best plays in the program is “Your Mother’s Butt”, a hysterically absurd therapy session by Oscar-winning writer Alan Ball, acclaimed for his work on the film “American Beauty” and HBO’s hit series “Six Feet Under”. James Pelican once again steals the show with his agile mugging, along with brave and capable support from Laura Davies.

There are two pieces that seem to fall short, if only by contrast with the excellence of the others. Both plays are brilliant in concept, and there’s still much to like. One, “The Actor’s Nightmare” by Christopher Durang, features a fine performance by Autumn Mirassou. The other, “Variations on the Death of Trotsky”, also by David Ives, has the good work of Nancy Lawson as a saving grace. They are longer than the other plays in the program, so they start off fine but then lose the focus, timing and rhythm so essential to comedy.

Director Robin Miller is a Sonoma County native just returning to theatre from a seven-year hiatus. She chose to direct these six plays and had no hand in their selection, but she deserves much credit for skillfully bringing them to life. Those two longer plays are a challenge that could benefit with from a bit more preparation.

“Comedy Tonight” may be a mixed bag of one-act treats, but it makes for an enjoyable, laugh-filled evening, thanks to the worthy efforts of its excellent cast and director.

When: April 29 to May 15, 2011
8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
2 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: $25 General, $20 Senior/Youth
Location: 6th Street Playhouse – Studio Theatre
52 West 6th Street, in Santa Rosa’s historic Railroad Square
Phone: 707-523-4185
Website: www.6thstreetplayhouse.com