Farce doesn't get much funnier than Alan Ayckbourn's "How the Other Half Loves," as staged by Tom Henschel at Theatre 40. For those who have seen too many labored attempts at the genre in oversized theaters, this is a sparkling reminder of how the other half laughs.

In much of Ayckbourn's later work, the pain penetrates through the laughter farther than it does here. Though these characters fret over their partners' real or imagined infidelities, they don't really hurt. The laughter has a blithe quality, which rapidly escalates into giddiness.

But Henschel's actors don't betray the fact that it's just a game. They maintain the play's balance between the real and the artificial--an especially commendable achievement considering that the time and place were deftly switched from England in the '60s to America in the '80s.

If it's possible to be innocently pompous, that's what J. Patrick McNamara has mastered as the most upscale of the husbands, and Peggy Walton-Walker is a fluttery delight as his wife. Several notches down the social scale are boisterous Cynthia Kania and Robert Mackenzie as one younger couple, and mortifyingly timid Kim Conrad and Joe Dahman as another. The latter pair's wide-eyed discomfort is particularly fertile comic territory.

Though the black backdrop seems a bit grim, Margaret Perry's single set does its double duty, serving two households, with clarity and wit, and her painfully accurate costumes add chuckles of their own. Michael Gilliam's lights and Dennis Guerin's sound design are valuable aids.

Performances are at 241 Moreno Drive, Thursdays through Sundays at 8 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2. Tickets: $8-$12.50, (213) 465-0070.


Actors and musicians both improvise. The New York-based Interplay, at the Tiffany, is a company of actors who specialize in graceful and ingenious musical improvisations.

With the exception of the late, lamented Instaplay (which created a whole musical comedy from scratch every Saturday night), the local improv groups usually limit their musical selections to a few rounds of extemporaneous blues and an occasional operatic parody. But Interplay creates comedy all over the musical map.

During pianist John Jacobson's solo turn the other night, he composed a song to fit the suggested title, "Fun in the Bathtub," turning out something that Leroy Anderson might have written, and then altered it to fit a list of audience-requested composers ranging from Chopin to Oscar Peterson to Copland to Liberace to Philip Glass to Little Richard.

Sisu Raiken, blessed with an exceptionally strong and versatile voice, took the suggested title "Blue Lipstick," and turned it into a forlorn torch song, supported by the vocalizations of three side men on imaginary instruments, as well as pianist Jacobson. Jim Meskimen made up a nifty Sinatra-style ballad (and did a quick succession of other fine, spoken impressions), Christopher Smith took a turn as a '50s rocker, and the company's requisite opera parody was funnier than many.

The group's non-musical interludes were less distinctive and occasionally over-extended, but the material never stooped to juvenility. Directed by Tamara Wilcox-Smith, Interplay is a polished addition to the town's improvisational ranks.

Performances are at 8532 Sunset Blvd., Mondays through Wednesdays at 8 p.m., through June 24. Tickets: $15, (213) 652-6165.


Before he unloaded his "Garbage" at the Boyd Street Theatre the other night, playwright Dennis Doph announced: "I know you came expecting the worst, and you're going to get it."

Sorry, but we critics cannot allow playwrights to pre-empt our reviews. A few questions, please, about Doph's 90-minute depiction of the greedy, backbiting cynics and misfits who work in the back room of a Melrose Avenue used record shop:

Does Doph seriously consider these wretched characters "the last liberated American generation," compared to today's "slave generation"--or is that part of the joke? Why does he stay on stage, script in hand, occasionally interrupting the dialogue? Does he truly believe he can convert his dreary slice of life into a political satire by writing a spirited polemic in the program and then donning a Reagan mask for occasional shuffles across the stage?

Performances are at 305 Boyd St., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets: $9.95, with proceeds divided equally between the AIDS Project/Los Angeles and Steps Up on Second Street (818) 954-3896.

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