THEATER REVIEW : Refreshing Laughs on Tap : 'Acme Genuine Draft' features successfully written and delivered sketches.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Ray Loynd writes regularly about theater for The Times

"Acme Genuine Draft" is chiseled, clever, scripted sketch comedy. In fact, the 4-year-old Acme Players, performing at their North Hollywood Acme Comedy Theatre, are so talented, the company is even superior to Los Angeles' revered Groundlings troupe.

Acme might have once been second-string to the Groundlings, but no more. Of course, to be fair, unlike the Groundlings, the Acme Players don't do risky improv (although they have an improv workshop). Instead, a dozen actor-writers, forming the most veteran of three separate Acme companies, alternately peel off 19 sketches in under two hours, each of them characterized by terrific writing, and developed and polished to the nub.

All the actors perform with panache, but it is the women who really shine.

To the surprise of Angelenos who have barely heard of the Acme Players, producer-director M. D. Sweeney guides Greater Los Angeles' hottest comedy theater, propelled by its inventive sketch material, which never seems a second longer or shorter than it should be.

Conceptually, the material is refreshing. Social and political subtexts are buried so deep that they're almost impossible to detect. Instead, we get Batman and Robin (Ralph Garman and Byrne Offutt) in hilariously exact comic-book wardrobes, handcuffed, hauled into court on a felony rap for assault and denied bail.

In "Valedictorian," Susie Geiser is a squirming, casually foul-tongued Valley girl delivering the main banal speech at her North Hollywood Extension High School graduation ceremony.

In "Duet," Garman's laid-back Frank Sinatra (who's a touch forgetful) and Antoinette Spolar's shrieking, straining Liza Minnelli unveil a bizarre lounge act.

Arguably the evening's highlight is a marital relationship number, "Yahtzee," in which two couples settle down for a game of Yahtzee. However, one couple (Jerry Collins and Robyn Donny) treat the game as all-out grimacing warfare, while the other characters (Spolar and Offutt) fear for their lives as they roll up the points.

Other topics include fickle lovers, a guy practicing his trumpet and driving his neighbors berserk, a photographer shooting a magazine cover girl, a Catholic school bingo game for aging spouses, two waiters auditioning for a job, a nervous computer hacker afraid to leave his room, smeary ribs (yes, smeary ribs) and a curtain call that is unquestionably the most unusual curtain call in theater history.

Live keyboard accompaniment by Jonathan Green gives the satire and wit a propulsive musical accent. The only mediocrities are the untextured lighting and bland set design. On the other hand, the 48-seat house is whistle-clean, for one inviting show.

Where and When

What: "Acme Genuine Draft."

Location: Acme Comedy Theatre, 5124 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.

Hours: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, indefinitely.

Price: $12 to $15.

Call: (818) 753-0650.

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