Pleasurable 'Pains'

Invisible Theatre's Season Finale Finds A Hilarious End Of The Rainbow Family.

By Dave Irwin

AS POLITICALLY charged as stereotypes have become, the "gag reflex" they incite in Invisible Theatre's season finale is disarmingly successful. It may be unpopular, but it's true: without stereotypes, to either play up or run counter to, Labor Pains wouldn't be nearly as funny.

Review This modern comedy is about a nice Jewish girl from New York who gets pregnant by her Italian stallion roommate, Gino. Except that it's not quite that simple: Gino is gay (the insemination involved a handy kitchen gadget legendary for this kind of duty); and he's just started getting serious about Rob, even as his nesting/nurturing instincts are being aroused towards his future progeny. The girl, Jake (short for Jacqueline), is intent on single motherhood after all the creeps she's dated. Throw in a scattered genius downstairs, Jake's pushy sister and a lesbian rabbi from the neighborhood, compress nine months into two hours, and voilà. Set in Jake and Gino's hyper-kitschy West Hollywood apartment, Labor Pains is a parlor comedy for the '90s.

Amy Lehmann-Almquist plays graphic designer Jake with a wide-eyed kinetic energy, and hers is the most developed character in Lisa Diana Shapiro's script. Jake is the epicenter of a world full of caricatures, and her impending motherhood leads to even closer scrutiny by her quirky society. Lehmann-Almquist stays intent and focused, anchoring the production nicely. This is no easy task, as the colorful and grandiose Gino vies for our attention, despite his status as a supporting character. Lehmann-Almquist is also IT's administrative manager, holds an MFA in directing, and has appeared in previous IT productions of The Mousetrap and Lost In Yonkers.

Gino (Brendan G. Murphy), the host at a gay nightclub, relishes his flamboyance. Murphy slightly underplays the part, keeping his portrayal amusing rather than insulting. Murphy hams up his part throughout, coquettishly but never rudely. It's a balanced, enthusiastic performance bringing out his character's most humane, natural qualities.

Gino's nemesis is Jake's sister Paula, played by Elizabeth Hunt-Lucarini as a Fran Dresher knock-off. She gets some of the funniest lines, as when she first sees the Gino-style apartment with its pink flamingo, M&M candy toys and boa feathers, and asks, oh-so-politely, "Who's your decorator? I think you've got a lawsuit here." Later, when Gino asks her to back off during their verbal sparring, she glibly replies, "I'm a Jewish broad from New York. This is how I communicate."

Three supporting characters round out the action: Gino's lover, played by Brian R. Jenson, gets a few good lines amidst lots of kissing and cuddling. Kathryn Kellner portrays cool, smart professionalism in Becca, the rabbi Paula calls in to bolster her arguments for Judaism in the unborn child's rearing. The twist is that Becca's a lesbian who takes a decidedly secular interest in Paula.

The comic surprise here is Matthew Edison as the artist-neighbor Dexter. Edison is hilarious as he works his character's contradictions: Jewish atheist, befuddled but brilliant painter, and finally, scrawny male who turns out to be a superstud. His physical humor, blithely played as if he has no idea how silly he looks, helps take the action up to the level of screwball comedy.

Shapiro's script, fresh from its opening run in Los Angeles, is loaded with verbal jabs and comic skits, such as the exercise routines that Gino and Rob devise for Jake, and the on-stage efforts to assemble a crib. It slows down only slightly in the second act as the dialogue turns serious in terms of the child's future, whose rights have precedence, Jewish versus Catholic traditions, and Gino's increasingly strong assertions about his child.

It soon reverts to wacky, however, making the lull more of a breather than a lag. Shapiro even includes a tip of the yarmulke (actually, the kippot, but detailed knowledge of Judaism is not required to enjoy the play) to the ethnic humor of Neil Simon: during one frantic scene, a character asks, "What is this, Plaza Suite?" It all ends with a group wedding, and it's safe to say is nothing like what Hilary Clinton imagined when she stated it takes a village to raise a child.

Directed at a furious pace by IT Managing Director Susan Claassen and visiting New York director Carol Calkins, Labor Pains works through our recognition of stereotypes to create a send-up of competing choices. Rather than poke fun at the varying lifestyles, it asks for an open mind about relativistic decisions. Funny and frenetic, Labor Pains makes nine months go by in a flash.

Labor Pains, the closing production of Invisible Theatre's 28th season, continues through June 13 at the Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave., at Drachman Street. Show time is 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets range from $14 to $17.50. For reservations and information, call 882-9721. TW

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