No theater has a more teen-aged audience than the L.A. Connection. This comedy-improv group's Sherman Oaks storefront is a hot spot on the Valley high-school social circuit--at least for that certain breed of teen-ager who wants something hipper (but no more expensive) than a night at the movies.

It's encouraging to see people of this age in a theater, in the era of MTV and VCRs. But problems also arise. One show began with whoops when the lights went out. Then, as an actor began to request audience suggestions with the words "Think of something . . . ," someone in the front row yelled, "Sex!" It was a fair sample of many of the audience contributions that followed.

In the face of such juvenility, what's an improviser to do? Nancy Van Anders applied some apt put-downs to the front-row offender the other night. More than most theater groups, though, improv troupes are at the mercy of their audiences. Despite talented casts, who are clearly beyond high school themselves, the L.A. Connection too often panders to the most sophomoric of its viewers.

It isn't just the repeated sexual references. Anything that might not be accessible to a typical teenager is discouraged. For example, when someone in the audience suggested naming a character "Gertrude Steinbeck"--which raised visions of a sketch in which Ma Joad meets Alice B. Toklas--the Connection actor who was soliciting suggestions scoffed and instead accepted the next one, "Gertrude Mackenzie."

The pace of each show is rapid fire--and the results are rapidly forgotten. From two recent shows, I remember a few funny voices (Connie Sue Cook's fast talk), screwy faces (Steve Pinto's), goofy songs (blues on the subject of "cheeseballs") or expert retorts (during a "Dating Game" parody--now there's an original idea--Todd Torok's fat, gluttonous redneck was asked what kind of car he drives. His reply: "Forklift.")

But there were no good moments that developed into great ones. The laughter sagged more than it soared. And a few of the purported improvs seemed less than spontaneous; after requesting the names of TV shows to parody, the Connection proceeded to do several shows that no one had suggested.

Perhaps the brevity of the bits reflects the ability of the cast, as well as the attention span of the audience. Twice a week, the Connection presents a one-hour sketch, "The Substitute," which is so predictable and turgid that the regular improv shows seem relatively inspired. Connection director Kent Skov and Ted Davis set "The Substitute" in an eighth-grade classroom; presumably the juniors and seniors who see it are supposed to laugh at the immaturity of their younger siblings.

The "all-star" L.A. Connection casts perform at 9 p.m. Fridays and at 9 and 10:30 p.m. Saturdays. Other casts go on at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 10:30 p.m. and midnight Fridays; 7 and 8:30 p.m. Sundays. "The Substitute" plays at midnight Saturdays only. All shows are at 13442 Ventura Blvd. (818-784-1868).

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