Saturday, January 12, 2008

Those seeking something fun to do this rainy weekend need look no further than the Acme Theater Company's production of 'A Thurber Carnival.'

How often do you get a chance to see someone wear a lampshade for a hat?

With Acme founder Dave Burmester gradually divesting himself of company responsibilities, longtime patrons have been concerned by what would happen to the company when he's not around.

'A Thurber Carnival' - directed by Emily Henderson, Daniel 'Pheelyks' Guttenberg, Alicia Hunt, Joshua Nielsen, Anthony Pinto, Jennifer Provenza Wallace, Betsy Raymond, Lisa Voelker and Dara Yazdani - leaves no doubt that Burmester has trained his actors well over the years. The alumni are more than competent to take over the reins of the company, after he directs his final play this summer.

'A Thurber Carnival' consists of 17 sketches based on a selection of Thurber's stories and cartoon captions, including the famous 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' and 'The Unicorn in the Garden,' along with lesser-known works. The show ran on Broadway in 1960; Thurber performed - as himself - in the sketch called 'File and Forget,' which rings even more true today, as the ultimate customer service nightmare.

The setting for 'A Thurber Carnival' is a raised scaffolding; a jazz combo - Hannah May, JT Rakitan, James Blake and Jonathan Kelly - occupies its center and performs before the show and during scene changes.

Large versions of Thurber's drawings hang at jaunty angles on the scaffolding, and make a perfect backdrop for the action on stage.

The cast has no weak links: Alex Kravitz, Hope Raymond, Kate McFarland, Delany Pelz, Elliana Bisgaard-Church, John Ramos, Sean Olivares, Vivian Breckenridge, Nathaniel Guttenberg, Emily Tracy and Ethan Jaffe all appear in several sketches.

While each sketch is excellent, little jolts of pleasure here and there raise the experience to 'outstanding.' Raymond, for example, is hilarious as an American woman trying to explain the 'real' plot of 'The Macbeth Murder Mystery' to McFarland. This brief bit could have been one of the less interesting sketches, but Raymond's accent and character make it a total delight.

Kravitz, taking on the Thurber role in 'File and Forget,' is exceptional. Tracy appears here briefly as Jeannette Gaines, and she almost steals the sketch.

Pelz is charming, but as a little girl in 'The Little Girl and the Wolf,' and as a termite in 'The Elephant Who Changed the World.'

Tracy is wonderful as the wife in 'A Couple of Hamburgers.' Jaffe is very funny in 'The Pet Department,' as a television host giving advice for pet owners. (The fireplace in this scene may be the most inventive part of the evening.)

In addition to the major cast, the 'Magic Hands Ensemble' - Geoffrey Albrecht, Kane Chai, Rachel 'Duckie' Cherones, Brandon Raphael, Celsiana Warwick and Genevieve Whitman - portrays everything from tables and ottomans to a potted plant, the flames in a fireplace and, yes, the standing lamp (with a lampshade on someone's head).

The Magic Hands Ensemble also presents an 'Improv Fable' at the start of the second act, during which they act out a sketch chosen at random from a fishbowl.

The opening and closing pieces - 'Word Dance, Part I' and 'Word Dance, Part II' - will be familiar to fans of 'Laugh-In'; this dance and stop-motion for one-liners (actually the captions to Thurber cartoons) was the inspiration for the weekly opening dance party on the 1960s television show.

Once again, Acme delivers a sparkling evening of gentle humor, expertly directed and acted.

Now in its 27th year, the Davis company just gets better and better.

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