A Contemporary Theatre, 700 Union, 292-7676. $10-$42. 7:30 p.m. Sun. and Tues.-Thurs.; 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 2 p.m. matinees select Thurs. and Sat.-Sun. Ends>"/>
A Contemporary Theatre, 700 Union, 292-7676. $10-$42. 7:30 p.m. Sun. and Tues.-Thurs.; 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 2 p.m. matinees select Thurs. and Sat.-Sun. Ends Sun., August 5
DAVID IVES' new play Polish Joke is just that and not much of anything more. If all you desire is a string of hearty laughs, you'll find it. The show comes across as an ethnic anxiety riff on Christopher Durang's The Actor's Nightmare, in which a man stumbles around a dream world grappling with the demons of his psyche. Durang's play, however, is about 20 minutes long and doesn't try to convince you that it has actually said something.
Polish-American Jasiu (Ted deChatelet) has been emotionally scarred as a child by an uncle (Richard Ziman) who regales him with notions of their culture's failure ("All Polish jokes are true; Polish folk wisdom is never true"). The young man spends the rest of his life in comic flight from his own identity, and the rest of our evening is spent listening to bouncy variations on that theme. Nearly everyone Jasiu encounters only furthers his paranoia, among them a WASPish job interviewer named Portia Benjamin Franklin Hamilton Yale (Nancy Bell) and a surreally inattentive florist (Leslie Law), who claims that Jasiu is in her "blind spot." Every frantic piece would work perfectly as a freestanding short—each one is broad, bright, and engagingly shticky (a scene in a faux Irish travel agency that has the staff "top-o'-the-morning"-ing one another is a howl). Ives wades mischievously into the swamp of cultural stereotypes, and this cast—particularly the invaluable John Aylward and a deliciously screwball Law in multiple characterizations— behaves like kids in galoshes and goes stomping in alongside him.
But these are shallow waters. "Maybe being Polish is the human condition itself," Uncle Roman reflects. Maybe, but we're not getting that here. Ives hasn't given his concerns enough heft, and director Jason McConnell Buzas doesn't know what to make of what little there is. Jasiu's self-imposed exile from his heritage becomes tiresome without that foundation: We're supposed to believe that he won't marry his beautiful, loving Jewish girlfriend because he's Polish? The show works only when it's laughing, and the production, like the title of Ives' best-known previous work, is all in the timing.
MONEY & RUN GO HAWAIIAN
Theater Schmeater, 1500 Summit, 324-5801. $12. 8 p.m. Thur.-Sat.; 7 p.m. Sun. Ends Sat., Aug. 18
IN THE NEW prime-time episode of writer/creator Wayne Rawley's peerless TV stage spoof Money & Run, the titular fugitive lovers from redneck Cudrup County head to Waikiki and deal with the curse of a carved coconut monkey. This means we get to enjoy Rawley's delirious, googly-eyed ensemble hollering things like, "I gotta have that coconut monkey!" Rawley, who nimbly plays a dim-witted misfit here and co-directed the show with Heather Newman, has a winning instinct for making fun of television's contrivances while also celebrating its cheery inanity.
Money & Run opens with a setup that gives Money (scrappy, sexy Lisa Neal) and Run (Joshua Sliwa, with his priceless Clint Eastwood rasp) and their peers invites for a free breakfast in Hawaii; where it goes from there—volcanoes, fierce pagans, and a nod to beach movies—is yours to dis-cover. The opening credit sequence and choreographed tussles are in their usual top form, but don't worry if you've never seen an episode before: The show is as accessible as a random viewing of The Dukes of Hazzard (assuming The Dukes of Hazzard had any wit, style, or knowledge of how ridiculous it was). Try not laughing at Julie Rawley's syrupy infomercial fascist Big Momma Bob or at Laurie Jerger, playing, among others, the ridiculously furtive gift shop owner Mother Flo Wannahoho, who provides accompaniment to her would-be mystique by clanging wind chimes behind her head.
No, it's not perfect. The evening is loud, and Schmeater's box of a space makes it even louder. Most of the mercilessly costumed savage native girls lack any comic finesse (although I hate to cavil about savage native girls). And Mr. Rawley can't contain his own glee; the production is about 15 minutes too long. But the show is indulging itself for your benefit—the actors here are trying to make you laugh, not each other. Unlike the TV programming it emulates, Money & Run understands its own appeal and milks it. Rawley's niftiest trick is to inspire the same dumb affection for his people and their absurd world as the shows he's mocking.