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Theater Review: 'Sketches From The National Lampoon' At The Hayworth Theatre

Katie Buenneke |
February 27, 2013 | 10:44 p.m. PST

Theater Editor

Jesse Merlin and David Haverty. Photo by Shaela Cook.
Jesse Merlin and David Haverty. Photo by Shaela Cook.
Sketch comedy is a finicky beast. When done right, it can be brilliant, insightful, and hilarious. When done wrong, it can be downright painful. Indeed, the standard of excellence is much higher for sketch comedy than for almost any other performing art: when most of the performing arts are mediocre, they are still watchable, but when sketch comedy is mediocre, it is one of the most excruciating things to watch.

Luckily, "Sketches from the National Lampoon," playing through March 17 at the Hayworth Theatre in Los Angeles, hits the elusive sweet spot of sketch comedy. The Lampoon, which has a legendary history (perhaps you've heard of "Animal House" or "Vacation"?), showcases why they are so famous for comedy—because they know how to do funny. The show is a series of sketches and songs, all penned in the early days of the Lampoon, many years ago, and are written by the likes of John Hughes ("The Breakfast Club") and Michael O'Donoghue (the first head writer for "Saturday Night Live").

Granted, the show is not without its duller moments, but as a whole, producer Matty Simmons and director Pat Towne have created a thoroughly entertaining show. David Haverty consistently knocks it out of the park in every sketch in which he appears, taking on the persona of a young John Belushi with ease. Jesse Merlin pulls some delightfully funny faces, never failing to crack the audience up with one of his recurring characters, a man whose wife is sleeping with everyone else in the show.

Oddly enough, the musical numbers (by Richard Levinson) constitute most of the show's weaker points. Most of them go too far with their jokes, beating them into the ground until they are no longer funny.

The production design, by Tifanie McQueen, and lighting design, by Brandon Baruch, are simple, and neither add to nor detract from the action on stage—but the show is really all about the sketch comedy, so it works.

There's an old motto, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The model of sketch comedy that the National Lampoon has perfected over the years certainly isn't broken, and it remains gloriously unfixed.

Reach Theater Editor Katie here; follow her on Twitter here.

"Sketches from the National Lampoon" plays through Sunday, March 17 at the Hayworth Theatre (2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles). Tickets are $30. More information can be found at NationalLampoon.com.



 

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