Sweet Valley Groundlings
Reviewed by Jenny Lower
The Groundlings Theatre
Through April 14
This latest outing from The Groundlings’ main company earns a respectable B. Directed by Kevin Kirkpatrick, the show at its best moments delivers the comedic goods, with writing that’s fresh, taut and clever, and performances of disciplined zaniness. In its weaker moments, ill-conceived sketches peter out or linger too long, leaving a whiff of self-indulgence.
That’s the case with “Pony and the Champ,” a whole-cast parody trailer for an 80s crime-fighting action show that has some neat stylized fight choreography but amounts to the same joke over and over. And it’s the same with “Bananas,” which seems to have been chosen as the finale mainly because it’s hard to top male nudity.
The women leave the strongest impression. Edi Patterson has a gift for accents that immediately define her characters, from a wide-eyed girl robot to a repressed empty nester. Annie Sertich, paired with Julian Gant, makes the most of her dumpy character in “Fantasy,” a cringy dive bar mating ritual with all the grace of lions spraying their territory. One of the most entertaining skits — and slyly subversive in this #MeToo moment—was Patterson and Emily Pendergast’s “Marky’s Girlfriend,” which skewers male chauvinism and wonderfully centralizes female desire.
Opening night served up a reminder that rat-a-tat improv beats lukewarm sketches any day. I would listen to Patterson and Sertich read the phone book, but it was far better enjoying them riff on Sondheim with an improvised musical number in the preamble to the evening. The song was meant as an amuse-bouche for entrées forthcoming, but the band (led by Matthew Loren Cohen) wisely refused to let them off the hook and kept playing. The audience was richly rewarded with a ping-pong series of dramatic reversals, a satisfying little play unto itself.
Groundlings Theatre, 7303 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 10 p.m.; through April 14. (323) 934-474. www.groundlings.com. Running time: one hour and 50 minutes with an intermission.