Comedy is Hard Gets Some Easy Laughs at Ivoryton Playhouse

By Amy J. Barry

Those of us who remember Micky Dolenz as the youthful drummer in “The Monkees” hit TV show in the mid-‘60s may find it a bit of a stretch to imagine him in his 80s in a wheelchair playing the part of a has-been comedian (he’s actually 69) in “Comedy is Hard!” by Mike Reiss, premiering at the Ivoryton Playhouse.

But Dolenz seems so at ease in the role of Lou, the rough-around-the-edges, self-deprecating retired Catskills jokester, one quickly forgives the age difference between Dolenz and his character.

The same can be said for Dolenz’s co-star, Joyce Dewitt (a mere 65 in real life, but she’s only playing a 72-year-old). Like Dolenz, Dewitt is known for her role in a hit TV series -- Janet Wood in Three’s Company -- as well as for directing and starring in numerous theatrical productions.

Dewitt plays Kay, who is also wheelchair bound, elderly, and a performer -- but she’s a dramatic stage actress. The two meet in the park when Lou’s son Phil (Michael McDermott) and Kay’s nurse Valentina (Dorian Mendez) wheel them over to the same spot. What follows is a lot of banter over which is harder, comedy or drama (hence the title of the play) and some poignant moments about growing old and past regrets.

An Emmy award winning writer for The Simpsons, Comedy is Hard is Reiss’s second play following “I’m Connecticut,” a lampoon of his own state, which was also performed at the Ivoryton, directed by the theater’s artistic director, Jacqueline Hubbard, who also directs the current production.

Dolenz and Dewitt play well off each other as their unlikely relationship develops. The comedy, on the other hand, is spotty. Some of Lou’s one-liners and politically incorrect zingers crack up the audience and others fall flat.

Maybe that was Reiss’s intention since Lou describes many instances of dying on stage during his comedic career -- particularly in Canada where his humor wasn’t appreciated.

There are some problems with the supporting cast -- not their acting, but their characters.

As Valentina, the stereotypical Latino nurse, all Mendez says to Kay is “Que,” which is funny the first few times, but not throughout most of the play. She finally becomes more three-dimensional in the last scene.

The same predictability can be said for McDermott as Phil. His whiny, humorless, victim role as an adult son whose father didn’t show up for him gets irritating -- we want him to get a therapist and get over it already. We have to wait until the end of the play for him to finally crack a smile.

It is unclear what the other two characters, Michael Hotkowksi as the Homeless Man and Dan Coyle as Mr. Holroyd, really add to the production, except for a few laughs.

A retired thespian, Mr. Holroyd is literally a prop at The Actors Home -- a rest home in New Jersey where Kay lives and convinces Lou to move. People hang things on him while he stands absolutely still for impressively long periods of time. He is also the play’s narrator of sorts, announcing the intermission and the end of the play.

The Homeless Man is an out of work actor to whom Kay gives money to find a job, and ends up donning a furry red Elmo costume for no apparent reason.

Although Weiss could have brought in a little more conflict and tension, the strength of the show ultimately lies in the relationship between Kay and Lou and their ability to find humor and compassion and self-forgiveness when faced with their own mortality. Hubbard does a good job of bringing out the best in the actors.

Daniel Nischan’s scenic design is deserving of mention. The attractive Manhattan park easily transforms into a sparsely decorated rest home and Marcus Abbott’s lovely lighting makes the park truly feel out of doors. Gaylen Ferstand’s projections of falling leaves and festive balloons enhance the set.

Comedy is Hard is at the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street in Ivoryton through Oct. 12. Tickets are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or online at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

This review appears in Shore Publishing community weeklies, and online at zip06.com and theday.com.



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