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THE IDIOT BOX

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at the Open Fist Theatre

If you're at all like me, you feel that the only thing worse than watching sitcoms on TV is watching sitcoms on the stage, masquerading as theatre. So what's at all attractive about a play set in a decidedly sitcom world—complete with laugh tracks and a theme song? It's that it has such theatrical fun being aware of, and breaking out of, that hideously formulaic world.

Michael Elyanow's The Idiot Box is a clever tale revolving around a carefree group of six friends who share a fabulous New York apartment. Sound familiar? Mark (Kelly Van Kirk) is a salt-of-the-earth paramedic; the ditzy Fiona (Tisha Terrasini-Banker) is his sister; Connor (David Castellani) is his ebullient friend who's married to successful romance novelist Stephanie (Amanda Weier); Billy (Dominic Spillane) is a handsome but dim model the pals picked up in the course of their high jinks; and Mark's chum from college, Chloe (Anna Khaja), is a designer. While the easygoing Mark is the reason the kids are all in the same place, Chloe's caring is the glue that keeps them together. We meet the characters in classic sitcom fashion, and director Jeremy B. Cohen is pretty much a genius, immersing us in tone and style from sweet staging—who doesn't jump over the couch at every available opportunity?—to the swell use of design elements, such as Lindsay Jones' spot-on original music and sound design. Cohen also brings out the best in the actors, who are at home with the material when they're mugging and delivering really bad one-liners but shift gears wonderfully as the play unfolds and their characters' so-called realities and carefully constructed identities unravel. As the outsiders who find themselves drawn to their world, Corena Chase, Conor Lane, and especially Rod Sweitzer and Joe Holt handle their roles well. Are they agents of change, brought into the picture by crazy coincidence? Or guest stars who don't play by prime-time rules—and where is that censor, anyway?

All around, fine performances make Elyanow's writing work even when his meet-cutes, snappy comebacks, and tidy wrap-ups come perilously close to being unintended targets. But then again, this smart but at times overwrought and overreaching script is anything but unconscious—and more than occasionally very, very funny. Cue end credits.

Presented by and at the Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Jul. 13-Aug. 25. (323) 882-6912. www.openfist.org.

Reviewed by Jennie Webb

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