Remember when “mutually assured destruction” meant maintaining détente with Russia — or else?

As the threat of nuclear war hung like a mushroom cloud over all our heads, the thought that nobody would survive kept everybody from pushing the button.

Oh, for the good old days.

But wait, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel (to coin a Cold War phrase), and it’s in the form of a funny new play by Emmy-winner Peter Lefcourt, now having its world premiere at the Odyssey Theatre.

In “Mutually Assured Destruction,” rattled hero Arnie (the incomparable Kip Gilman) finds it easier to cope with the “evil-doers” in his life if he can think of them as the countries they most resemble.

It’s a funny conceit, carried off by the outstanding ensemble of actors whose faces you’ve long been familiar with.

Stuart Pankin, who plays Herb, the cuckolded husband, has starred in more than 50 off-Broadway and regional theater productions, has been a series regular on nine primetime television shows and been a guest star in more than 200 television productions. He plays Arnie’s best friend in this production.

Bobby Costanzo, who plays Murray, the accountant who is having an affair with Herb’s wife Eve (Brynn Thayer), has co-starred with Billy Crystal, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nicolas Cage, Anne Bancroft, and Bill Murray, and as Joey’s father on “Friends.”

Gina Hecht, who plays Carol, Arnie’s wife, was last seen co-starring with Jason Alexander in “The Prisoner of Second Avenue.”

The story begins when Arnie, who has driven 20 miles to Canoga Park to save $20 on an oil change (his wife calls it an example of his “selective thrift”), stumbles on Murray and Eve having a clandestine lunch.

Not telling burns a hole in Arnie’s pocket, but he keeps the secret. But that doesn’t matter to Eve, who thinks he’s told.

And the story wends its silly way from there.

It’s worth seeing because it’s a fun night out and because director Terri Hanauer has done a commendable job of steering her excellent cast through its far-fetched paces.

“Mutually Assured Destruction” will continue at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through Aug. 26.  Call (323) 960-5772 for tickets.

 

Cynthia Citron can be reached at ccitron@socal.rr.com.

 

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