A Comedy

I must admit I was dubious about a production called “The Complete History of Comedy (abridged)”. I anticipated a barrage of “chicken crossing the road” jokes. And so there was. But these chicken jokes were rendered with the accents and attitudes of many different cultures, and they were hilarious!

The jokes and parodies and skits and one-liners were laugh-out-loud funny. And even when they were corny they were funny. A bit in which Lincoln protested that he didn’t want to go to the theater was met by a groan from the audience, to which the response was “Too soon?”

The show, written by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, was impeccably presented by three outstanding comic actors: Zehra Fazel, Marc Ginsburg, and Mark Jacobson. Bursting on stage singly or in a group, with different costumes each time they appeared, they represented bits that spanned the centuries — or not — and included such non-sequiturs as projected images of The Ten Unfunniest People in the World (Alex Trebeck, Kellyann Conway, et al).

In another scene, one of the Marks, dressed and bewigged as Christ, expressed his surprise and horror by loudly proclaiming “Oh, my Dad!”

The premise of the show was a 13-chapter treatise on comedy, and behavior in general, supposedly written 2,000 years ago by a Chinese philosopher. Newly discovered, it turned out to be written in Chinese. But not to worry. Zehra read and translated it on the spot.

Physical jokes abounded. In one scene, one of the Marks, wearing a shaggy monkey costume and wielding an axe, shambled across the stage declaring that he was the inventor of “gorilla warfare.” And there was also the familiar bit with a whipped cream-topped pie that you knew was going to wind up in someone’s face.

The dialogue was witty, the references were intelligent, and the clever costumes by Master Costume Designer A. Jeffrey Schoenberg, made this an easy task for Director Jerry Kernion to steer this production into an award-winning adventure.

Garry Marshall would be so proud!

“The Complete History of Comedy (abridged)” runs Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. through April 23 at the Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, in Burbank. Tickets can be purchased by calling (818) 955-8101 or visiting falcontheatre.com.

 

A Mystery

Another fabulous production is currently appearing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts this week. It runs for only 12 performances, ending Sunday, April 16, because presenting this intense, unique, and mesmerizing one-man show for longer than 12 performances would undoubtedly send its star, Simon McBurney, to the hospital or a loony bin. It’s that powerful!

The play is called “The Encounter” and it’s a true story lived by famed National Geographic photographer and cultural anthropologist Loren McIntyre, who shared it with Romanian novelist Petru Popescu. Popescu, who lives here in Beverly Hills, turned the story into a book, “The Encounter: Amazon Beaming”, which inspired the current play, co-produced by London-based Complicite Associates, the Edinburgh International Festival, the Barbican in London, Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens, Schaubuhne Berlin, Theatre Vidy-Lausanne and Warwick Arts Centre.

The play tells of an exploratory trip that McIntyre undertook into the deep rainforest of Brazil in 1969. He was there to photograph the flora and fauna, but when he unexpectedly stumbled onto a small group of indigenous men, he followed them. After five hours of walking he realized he was completely lost and wouldn’t be able to find his way back to his campsite.

And so he stayed with these people, the Mayoruna, and traveled with them as they migrated from place to place in the forest. Before they departed, it was their custom to burn every object in their village and build anew in the new place. They were looking, he learned, for The Beginning, and after staying with them awhile (and sharing their food and potions) he began to understand and share their views.

The tale is extraordinary, but even more so is the way it is mounted. McBurney, who has won many Olivier Awards and been nominated for Tony and SAG awards, directs and performs “The Encounter” on a stage equipped with multiple microphones that toss sounds all over the auditorium. Each member of the audience is provided with headphones that render the sounds and voices as an “aural 3D” experience that accompanies the frenetic activity of the star.

I had the good fortune to meet and talk with McIntyre on a trip up the Brazilian Amazon in 2001, and it made me sad to learn from McBurney that McIntyre died in 2003. He would have loved this show.

If you hurry, you can still enjoy this extraordinary production before it leaves the Wallis. There are five more performances. The Wallis is located at 9390 North Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills and you can reserve tickets by calling (310) 746-4000 or online at TheWallis.org/Encounter.

 

 

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