Los Angeles Theater Review: LIVE NUDE GROUNDLINGS (The Groundlings Theatre)

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by Tony Frankel on July 28, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles

I’M IN THE NUDE FOR LOVE

The main reason that the Groundlings company remains L.A.’s number one improv training and performance space is their emphasis on character work. When actors come to the Groundlings, they begin a series of classes in which proven methods are used to teach improvisational and sketch writing technique, ultimately creating a flock of unique characters. Every actor who has completed the Groundlings program and performed in the Sunday Company can then be invited into the Main Company. The actors from this company write and perform in the theatre’s shows and also teach classes at the Groundling’s School.

At one such show back in the 90s, there was a sketch in which two cheerleaders were so desperate to make a difference for their team that they became desperately inappropriate. Of course, it was hysterical, but I vividly remember thinking that these two actors are going to be big names. Turns out the Spartan Cheerleaders were Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri.

Live Nude Groundlings - The Groundlings Theatre in Los AngelesFor over 36 years, this training ground has been the launch pad for a stack of careers, including Phil Hartman, Laraine Newman, John Lovitz, Julia Sweeney, Paul Reubens (AKA Pee-wee Herman), Edie McClurg, Cassandra Peterson (“Elvira”), Lisa Kudrow, Valerie Curtin, Craig T. Nelson, Kathy Griffin, Kristen Wiig, and Mindy Sterling.

The other night at Live Nude Groundlings, the latest main stage show, I had a thought that Mikey Day, who also directed previous shows, will be a household name one day. (The same applies to Mitch Silpa, another member we have seen in previous outings at the venerable school. In fact, the two actors, along with Michael Naughton, have become an internet sensation with Day’s creation, a series of David Blaine parodies in which Silpa tortures two guys with his magic. Even though these guys have done far superior work on stage, the original series – entitled David Blaine Street Magic – is closing in on 33 million hits!

Every few months, members showcase their newest sketches in the main stage show, which is directed by a company member. Even with the best talent, evenings of sketch comedy and improvisation are an unpredictable beast and this year is proof of that. First, there was Singles Cruise which, largely due to Day’s direction, positively crackled with invention, generating howls of laughter. Next came State Penitentiary, which fell terribly flat. Now, the company has sprung back to life with Live Nude Groundlings, an evening of 15 sketches and 3 improvs.

Live Nude Groundlings - The Groundlings Theatre in Los AngelesThere was good work all around, but the sketches that Day wrote and appeared in were truly the most inspired, including “Button Pushers,” in which Day and David Hoffman are console operators on the Death Star, gossiping away as Darth Vader barks out orders. With “Story” (written with Alex Staggs), Day plays a female cheerleader who keeps trying to change a creepy campfire story to benefit the guy with whom she has a crush. In “Career Placement,” Day is a freaked-out high school student who discovers that he will most likely be a Night Floor Manager at Michael’s.

Also worth a mention is Scott Beehner’s turn as a personal finance and wealth management keynote speaker (“Talkin’ Bout Money”) who inspires the audience to go for the bucks when we have no idea what he is talking about. Michaela Watkins and Hoffman wrote the deliciously lunatic “So Simple,” wherein a woman in couples therapy discovers her inner self with the use of her therapist’s Staple’s push-button – the one that cries out, “That Was Easy!” Annie Sertich mines a comic gem when she auditions for a commercial and has to relate her most embarrassing moment in “Cheesy.”

Live Nude Groundlings - The Groundlings Theatre in Los AngelesDirector Damon Jones seems challenged with his cast of six (some of the shows I have seen contain eleven actors); the scene changes can be very lengthy and the cast is still trying to iron out the comedy: there is some overlapping of lines as well as give-and-take issues that will surely be resolved with time. Jones also needs to remind his actors to stick to character and relationship in the improvisational scenes – they talked about their activity more than adding information.

Regardless of any inconsistencies, all of The Groundlings’ shows should be on everyone’s must-see list. You never know who Hollywood will pick as their next big star – but I have my suspicions.

tonyfrankel @ stageandcinema.com

photos by Shawn Bishop

Live Nude Groundlings
ends on October 1, 2011
for tickets, call 323.934.4747 or visit Groundlings

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