Arts & Theater

Theater review: New farce at B Street falls short of masterpiece

Andy Lee-Hillstrom, left, Jason Kuykendall and Dave Pierini in B Street Theatre’s “A Masterpiece of Comic ... Timing”
Andy Lee-Hillstrom, left, Jason Kuykendall and Dave Pierini in B Street Theatre’s “A Masterpiece of Comic ... Timing” B Street Staff

Robert Caisley’s new play “A Masterpiece of Comic ... Timing” can be very funny at times. It tries – strains, really – to be very funny all the time. As simple as being funny may sound, it’s extremely hard to accomplish. The two-act farce about a harried producer trying to make a mopey writer produce a hit comedy huffed and puffed its way through an uneven world premiere performance at B Street Theatre on Sunday night.

In his curtain speech, director Buck Busfield noted the play had been revised continually by the playwright throughout the rehearsal period and even during previews. However, the production didn’t feel as much like a work in progress as it did a slight comic amalgamation of stock characters and often-seen situations.

Set in 1963 in a temperature-control-challenged hotel room in Scottsdale, Ariz., the story hinges around David Pierini’s nervous theater producer, Jerry Cobb. Jerry has hired playwright Danny Jones (Jason Kuykendall) to write a hit comedy and has flown him to Arizona for some concentrated work. Jerry smokes cigars, drinks as much as possible and wears sock garters. He’s old-school.

His smiling, eager-to-please young assistant, Charlie Bascher (the excellent B Street newcomer Andy Lee-Hillstrom), has bad news, though. Somehow playwright Jones has fallen into a near catatonic state, leaving him unable to write. Not much happens through the first act as Jerry and Charlie set up the story, and the interplay between them isn’t funny enough to make you miss some actual dynamics or plot.

The second act wakes up when Cobb imports the writer’s saucy, experienced ex-girlfriend, Nola Hart (a glorious Elisabeth Nunziato in a red wig), for creative inspiration. There’s a noticeable uptick in fun and energy after Nola enters, which gives the second act a charge until Caisley seems to lose interest and wraps it all up.

Director Busfield pushes the farce, and the characters are intentionally over-the-top or underlined “funny,” and it feels like the occasional blackouts are needed to replace the comically chewed scenery. All have their moments, but the tone eventually flat-lines. Finding a consistently comic equilibrium through it all was Lee-Hillstrom’s aggressive, ambitious Bascher.

Caisley has proclaimed he wants only funny stuff in “Masterpiece,” and his character of Jerry echoes the sentiment for his fictional “Masterpiece.” Some revealing social observation creeps in, though, when Charlie questions what he considers the presumptuousness of the title. Jerry then gives Charlie “the God’s honest theatrical truth” about audiences. He tells Charlie the audience “doesn’t care” if the play’s a masterpiece or not, they just want to get out of the house and have a collective experience.

Jerry says, “The audience wants to be released from the responsibility of ‘taste.’ They don’t want to have to decide what’s good and what’s bad. ... They want to be told.”

If that’s true, I guess that’s why we have critics.

Marcus Crowder: 916-321-1120, @marcuscrowder

A Masterpiece of Comic ... Timing

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What: The world premiere of Robert Caisley’s new farce, set in 1963 with Dave Pierini, Jason Kuykendall, Andy Lee-Hillstrom and Elisabeth Nunziato. Buck Busfield directs.

When: Through Sunday, April 17, at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays

Where: B Street Theatre Mainstage, 2711 B St., Sacramento

Cost: $23-$35, $5 student rush

Information: 916-443-5300; bstreettheatre.org

Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, including one intermission

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