Inventing Avi (and Other Theatrical Maneuvers)

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Photo Source: Kim Sharp

Once there was a creature regularly seen in the wild: Comedus Innocuous. Called comedy for short, it could bite, sting, make you laugh like a hyena, or think. Some scientists feared it was extinct, but it has mysteriously resurfaced in Robert Cary and Benjamin Feldman's "Inventing Avi (and Other Theatrical Maneuvers)." Unlike its genetic cousins Comedus Sophisticus and Comedus Farcicus, it isn't the hardiest of species. But the Abingdon zoo should be proud of its exhibit.

David Smith (Stanley Bahorek) is the first feature of the creature we see. He's a whip-smart, nervous playwright in the employ of a not-too-bright producer, Judy Siff (Alix Korey). In addition to answering phones, Smith's job is script coverage. Naturally, he touts his own. No dice, Siff roars.

Dispatched to photocopy the script of an Ethel Rosenberg tuner Siff aims to produce—"Electrifying Ethel"—Smith meets Amy (Havilah Brewster), a hungry actor. Through rather implausible happenstance, she's read Smith's play and deems it brilliant. How to get Siff to produce it? Well, Amy works part-time for Siff's estranged sister Mimi (Emily Zacharias), a legendary, egotistical, cheapskate actor who sits on the board of a powerful Jewish foundation. Surely the foundation will fund the play if its writer is Jewish. Smith isn't—who is? Meet Avi Aviv (Juri Henley-Cohn), Amy's scene partner, a boiling-hot Israeli actor given to doing accents, both genders, and personal deceptions.

Cary and Feldman know their spawn needs more spine, so they introduce Astrud (Lori Gardner), Mimi's astringent maid, and recurring flashbacks exploring how the spat between the sisters as young girls (Gardner and Brewster) first began. Perhaps as in too many things stereotypically Jewish, the message is: Blame the mother. Oy.

Indeed, not every moment in this living, breathing comedy has found its footing: A bit about a Ruth Bader Ginsburg musical flies; a bit about "Spring Awakening" and hamantashen, the Purim pastry, needs somewhat sharper teeth. In all ways, though, the timing of the actors—especially Korey—is as quick and lacerating as a cheetah. With that kvetchy wail of a voice, melancholy eyes, and deadpan mien, Korey could be the poster child for comedy cloning. Add in precision direction by Mark Waldrop—no cue is dropped, no chance to make mirth goes unmade—as well as Ray Klausen's coy, minimal set and Brian Nason's nifty lights, and this is a fine specimen of a scarce breed.

Presented by Abingdon Theatre Company in association with Sharon Carr, Dan Frishwasser, Richard Winkler, Demos Blazer Entertainment, and Anna Ryan at the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex's June Havoc Theatre, 312 W. 36th St., NYC. Oct. 14–Nov. 1. Tue.–Thu., 7 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 2 p.m. (212) 868-2055 or Casting by William Schill.