Friday, March 11, 2016

Masterpiece of Comic Timing

Jason Kuykendall, foreground, Andy Lee Hillstrom, left,
and Dave Pierini star in B Street Theatre's production
of “A Masterpiece of Comic...Timing.”
B Street staff/Courtesy photo
The scene is an opulent suite in an upscale Arizona hotel (scenic design by Samantha Reno). The air-conditioning is off and the occupants, producer Jerry Cobb (David Pierini) and his flunky Charlie Bascher (Andy Lee-Hillstrom), are begging hotel management to please fix the air-conditioner. Even the bucket of ice they eventually acquire melts before it can do any good.

This is the setting of a new play, “A Masterpiece of Comic … Timing” by Robert Caisley, making its world premiere at the B Street Theatre. The two men are waiting for the arrival of Danny “Nebraska” Jones (Jason Kuykendall), an up-and-coming playwright, who is going to write a comic masterpiece for them.

But there is a problem. When Danny arrives, he’s in the depths of depression and as he flops onto the couch it is obvious he’s not up to writing a comedy. He can’t even think of a plot.

“Comedy doesn’t necessarily have to ‘mean’ anything,” Cobb explains. “You take a hundred jokes and put it in two acts, there’s your plot.”

There are lots of jokes in this play (some lovingly borrowed from other sources) that make up all of the crazy action going on on stage, there is a running gag and there’s an early plot point that returns at the end to tie things up. There’s sexist humor, offensive humor, good clean humor, slapstick humor and weather aberrations. When it all comes to an end, the audience is still laughing uproariously.

“Comedy is hard,” says director Buck Busfield. “Getting a laugh is hard because the line must not only be funny but well rendered. Perfectly rendered, in fact.”

This show works so well because most of the lines are perfectly rendered by some of the funniest actors in Sacramento.

Pierini is a loud, blustery comic in the manner of Nathan Lane and he is the center of most of the action on stage, as he stomps around yelling and puffing on his big cigar. As it starts to seem as if this comedy is not going to be written, he gets more and more desperate, fearing that the Russian investors are going to show up at his doorstep demanding a finished, funny script.

Kuykendall, as Danny, milks his melancholy character for all it’s worth, drinking gallons of bourbon, moaning that he has lost his “love” and can’t write without her, and pretty much having a rubbery body that can’t hold itself upright without assistance.

Then there is Lee-Hillstrom as Charlie, who is that stereotypical fussbudget lackey that important people can’t live without. With his ramrod-straight spine and his tiny moustache and the ability that he develops to be more emphatic, he becomes a caricature, but one who is very funny.

Cobb decides he must send for Danny’s girlfriend, with whom he has recently had a breakup, thinking that her presence will inspire Danny to find his sense of humor.

Elisabeth Nunziato is an electric copper-headed, sequined-clad bombshell, who shows up thinking she’s there to audition for Cobb. She is not at all happy to discover she’s been duped.

But Danny’s reaction to her arrival surprises everyone and doesn’t help get the script written anyway.

While Act 1 begins to drag a bit, things move forward at a dizzying speed in Act 2, and when the show ends, as does every good comedy, nobody cares that it wasn’t really about anything after all. It worked for “Seinfeld” and it works well for Caisley.

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