Italian political farce meets classic American sitcom in Ron Jenkins' translation of this 1974 Dario Fo play. Jenkins' version, which premiered in 1999, infuses I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners into Fo's comic tragedy, and director Scott Rognlien and his cast have made the most of the uneven material by interacting with the audience and keeping the physical action fast and tight. Though the repetitive script needs more editing, this two-hour production is sharply directed and enjoyable.
There's a preshow introduction with jokes and instructions, as if the audience were attending a sitcom taping. Rob Smith and producer Eric Normington ask the crowd to adhere to "applause" and "laugh" signs, though everyone is allowed to laugh and clap whenever the mood strikes them. The story concerns wives Antonia and Margherita (Annie Terry and Chris Cookson), who closely resemble TV's Lucy and Ethel. Antonia tells her friend about her trip to the grocery store, where all of the women-fed up with rising prices-decided not to pay for food. Antonia, afraid her law-abiding husband, Giovanni (Michael Cornacchia), will be angry if he finds the groceries, hides some and gives the rest to Margherita, who stashes them under her coat. But when Giovanni sees Margherita's bulging stomach, Antonia says her friend is pregnant, a secret that even her husband, Luigi (Zoran Radanovich), doesn't know. Once the lies start flying, the rest is mayhem, much of it perpetrated by actor Matt Taylor, who plays several roles, including a nosy State Trooper and a doddering Grandfather.
The ensemble successfully executes the script's broad comedy without resorting to caricature. Terry's loud and outgoing attitude blends well with Cookson's understated style. Cornacchia, as Giovanni, echoes the grand gestures and vocal inflections of Jackie Gleason. The multifaceted Taylor elicits the most laughs; he shuttles effortlessly from one character to the next, giving each a ridiculous accent and an even stranger walk. Both acts bog down in the middle, but Rognlien keeps the scenes lively. Also, having Normington and Smith holding audience cue cards and making comments from their seats in the audience is an inspired touch.
Presented by Next Arena at the Pan Andreas Theatre, 5125 Melrose Ave., L.A. Thu.-Sun. 8 p.m. (Dark Sun. 8 p.m. Nov.25-Dec. 3.) Nov. 4-Dec. 3. (323) 960-7861.