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  •  REVIEW: COMEDIANS

      Comedians
    Standup sendup

    The revival of "Comedians," a 1975 hit that heralded England's transition from crusty sameness to multicultural curry pot, is smashingly true to the original.

    By CARAID O'BRIEN
    Offoffoff.com


    After seeing "Want's Unwisht Work" at the Kraine, I stepped out onto Fourth Street as the three theaters on the block were transitioning into their second event of the evening. On the walk across to La Mama, the birthplace of Yiddish theater in America, the lane was buzzing like Second Avenue of old. My first stop at 7:30 p.m. was a modern American verse play, next at 10 p.m. a butterfly-collared English classic.

    COMEDIANS
    Written by: Trevor Griffiths.
    Directed by: Ted Lambert.
    Cast: Shawn Corbett, George Taylor, Stephen Donovan, Christopher Flavell, Tim Gilmore, Martin Hillier, John O'Callaghan, Mark Cameron Pow, Debargo Sanyal, Felix van Dyk.
      
    Before "The Full Monty," there was Trevor Griffiths' Tony-Award-winning hit of 1975 — "Comedians." Originally directed on Broadway by Mike Nichols, it launched the American career of English actor Jonathan Pryce. Set in working-class Manchester, the show chronicles six aspiring comedians and their attempts to make it big. Though it might seem strange to see this influential "well made" play at the global epicenter of the avant-garde, today it is an oddity to discover at any theater such a well directed, well acted faithful revival that truly embodies the spirit of the original.

    The action unfolds in a classroom and in a nightclub as the six local men compete for a booking in the big time. The script gently yet powerfully captures the student-teacher dynamic, one of rivalry and respect, while a Sex Pistols soundtrack depicts an England in transition — one no longer characterized by cultural sameness. The costumes by Katie Gilmartin are excellent, subtly revelatory of both the time period and the individual personalities of each character.

    Cleanly directed by Ted Lambert with very effective environmental staging during the club scenes, the entirely foreign ensemble cast is excellent. Each actor has a great moment. George Taylor as the former comic turned teacher Eddie Waters plays his role with dignity and kindness — delivering well "the dead kitten speech" about why he left the business, the only overwritten scene in the show. Felix Van Dyk's Jewish Englishman cleverly isolates himself from the rest of the group. The brotherly tension between Martin Hillar and Stephen Donovan comes across as truthful and complex. Shawn Colbert gives a credible performance throughout as the class rebel. An engaging Tim Gilmore as the comedian from Northern Ireland delivers some of the funniest jokes. John O'Callaghan as Irish Mick performs a heartbreaking monologue for his club audition, turning centuries of British racism toward the Irish into a joke with a hilarious piece of false teeth. Debargo Sanyel also poignantly portrays the difficulties of being an immigrant in England as an Indian stumbling mistakenly into Waters' classroom looking for a reading class. Christopher Flavell convinces as the seedy agent and establishment shill, and Mark Cameron Pow plays a very funny double role as both the club MC and the school janitor.

    Great cast, great accents, bit of theater history — go see it before it closes May 13.

    MAY 9, 2001
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK


    Reader comments on Comedians:

  • This Show Is Wonderful!   from Annete Adel, May 11, 2001
  • A wonderful production   from Theodore Michaels, May 12, 2001

  • Post a comment on "Comedians"