The mirth of “Groundlings Kung Fu Battle Island” perhaps isn't at landmark levels, yet it’s consistent with the venerated troupe’s hip reputation.
Its title is purely decorative, apart from musical director Willie Etra and colleagues Howard Greene and Larry Treadwell sailing through “Kung Fu Fighting” at evening’s outset and the competitive edge of its writer-performers.
Directed by Oscar-winning "Community"-star and alumnus Jim Rash, the new edition, as ever, features a rotating cast that frequently delivers wry, ribald laughs, even when coasting on farcical technique.
At the reviewed performance, “Sleepover,” a social-media skew on the time-tested “No television” edict, found author Annie Sertich a gut-busting stitch as the ultimate twerking mom. Physical comedy permeates the evening, such as Laurel Coppock’s backpeddaling indecision as a nerdish work colleague accosting two co-workers having “Coffee.”
Or “High School Aerobic Finals,” a slapstick field day for co-authors Coppock and Ryan Gaul, whose versatility is another hallmark of this edition. Company stalwart Kevin Kirkpatrick goes from deadpan witness to Gaul and the indispensable Edie Patterson’s inappropriate job interview behavior in “Chemistry” to the rubber-faced mirror for Patterson’s neurasthenic date in “Emotional Eating" (co-written by Lauren Burns).
Topical targets include Scientology in “In the Clear,” co-written by Jim Cashman, its chortles resulting from Gaul’s unflappable redneck and H Michael Croner’s imploding auditor. Online consumer comments take a hit in “Yelp Review,” with Greg Worswick gushing over Taco Bell and server Patterson, and the Act 1 closer, “The Final Rose,” wickedly posits Croner and Worswick as self-abnegating candidates on “The Bachelor.”
There’s an elevated attention to tech, with designer Paul Howle’s lighting and Paul Matlock’s sound noteworthy. Less encouraging is how many sketches turn on mental deficiency, physical cruelty and/or the aging -- though that makes its own comment on the current media climate. And the improv segments are transparently rigged in structure to permit predetermined content to shoehorn into what ought to be a spontaneous high-wire act.
Of course, every show is its own animal due to the fluctuating roster. Devotees of “Adult Swim” may well find this “Island” well worth kick-boxing their way to reservations.
“Groundlings Kung Fu Battle Island,” Groundlings Theatre, 7307 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Ends July 11. $20. (323) 934-4747 or www.groundlings.com. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.