Ivoryton Connecticut’s iconic 100-year-old Ivoryton Playhouse is presenting the world premiere of Comedy Is Hard! by Mike Reiss, the Emmy award-winning writer/producer of the long-running hit The Simpsons. Starring in this delightful and poignant comedy are Joyce DeWitt (Three’s Company) and Mickey Dolenz (The Monkees). The show runs though October 12th.
The fast-paced action plays out in a park overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge and in a retired actors’ nursing home. The pleasantly minimalist sets by Daniel Nischan are easily maneuvered by stagehands dressed as care-giving orderlies. There are fun and fancy projected images by Gaylen Ferstand with lighting designed by Marcus Abbot, that convey, with great simplicity, but effectiveness, changes of time, place and moods – from party balloons for joy, to falling leaves for the autumn season. Jo Nazro’s sound design made each word as clear as a crisp fall night in Ivoryton.
Mike Reiss proves that, yes, comedy is hard, but so is drama. Both take well-honed skill and talent to pull off. And these two actors do just that. Micky makes shtick comedy look easy. Joyce, with her magnificent ‘stage voice’ does the same with drama, and both then turn the whole world topsy turvy by each taking turns wearing the other’s mask of Comedy or Tragedy. They both filled the stage with a dazzling presence and first-rate performances.
Director Jacqueline Hubbard (who also wears the masks of the theater’s Executive and Artistic Director), skillfully helms every aspect of this production from blocking the movement of the actors to bring out their best performances to respecting the intent of the writer who has created this fresh, new comedy. Dolenz is quoted as telling Jacqueline that “The opportunity to originate this role [of Lou the retired comic] in Mike’s new play is terrific. I am ready to un-leash my inner-comedian.” And, with her direction, unleash it he did. He told us that he’s a fan of the old-guard comedians, and in some instances felt that he was channeling Red Skelton and other funny men who worked the Catskill circuit and early television.
Joyce DeWitt is accustomed to Mike Reiss’ hilarious writing – she starred in the record-breaking world premiere of his play I’m Connecticut at CT Repertory Theatre at The University of Connecticut in 2012. In being offered the part of Kay the retired dramatic actress, Joyce told Jacqui Hubbard: “The idea of figuring out how to play this woman who goes through a deep, heart-place transformation/evolution–in the middle of a wonderfully written comedy! With Micky Dolenz? At the beautiful, historic Ivoryton Playhouse? ‘Yes’ was a no-brainer.”
The small cast includes Dan Coyle as retired Shakespearian Mr. Holroyd, a catatonic thespian who comes to life with dramatic and comedic aplomb at crucial intervals; Michael Hotkowski who portrays a delightfully dim homeless man; Dorian Mendez who perfectly shows us the cheerful yet blasé attitude expected of comedy-inspired nursing home attendants; and Michael McDermott, a long-time member of the Ivoryton Playhouse acting ‘family’, as Lou’s too bland, not-very-nice son, Phil.
The friendship and friction between Lou and Kay is peppered with ‘in’ theater and show business lines, jokes and references – some of which might be lost on younger people. Does anyone but a theater snob even care about the absurd and pretentious Samuel Beckett play Waiting For Godot? Similarly, some of the tech-savvy jargon might get lost on older audience members who don’t tweet or text, and for whom the most important software in their lives is a pillow. But then, as Mike’s comedy states, some of us are guilty of ‘growing old disgracefully.’
Mike Reiss successfully – in about two hours–wildly and wittily pokes fun at and insults everyone: gays, Hispanics, lesbians, the elderly, Jews, blacks, people with disabilities, the homeless, fat girls, political parties, actors, critics, pancakes, Sesame Street, minimum- wage workers and very well-endowed famous men. No one goes unscathed by Mike’s take-no-prisoners humor. You owe it to yourself to sit in the audience and be skewered by Mike’s barbs.
Maybe only Mike Reiss knows exactly what this staged lesson in aging is all about, but whatever it is, he has definitely written a funny, warmly engaging and laugh-out-loud play. And, as in the lyrics of a song from The Night They Raided Minskys – that’s ‘what you go to a show for.’ If you think that comedy is hard, you should have tried to write this review. Ba da bum.
Performance times are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm. Comedy Is Hard! was produced in partnership with Ivoryton Playhouse and theater-loving, local restaurateur Michael A. Dattilo.
Tickets are $42 for adults, $37 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children and are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or by visiting the website at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.(Group rates are available by calling the box office for information.) You can follow Ivoryton Playhouse on Facebook for updates and to make witty comments that Mike Reiss might steal. The Playhouse is located at 103 Main Street in Ivoryton, Connecticut.
Be sure to watch the colorful slideshow above, and watch the video supplied to us by The Ivoryton Playhouse via You Tube.
By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle