There are a number of sure-fire signs that a comedy skit show is working, and one of them is when audience members recruited into the act actually contribute something.
With years of watching skits and improv acts, I've rarely seen it happen, but happen it did recently in the Orange County Crazies' new show, "Gone With the Orange."
During an overlong spoof of the upcoming Oscars (in which Tom Hanks wins for "Forrest Gump," Jodie Foster wins for "Nell" and Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" wins best picture), a fellow bounded up from the audience accepting for the absent "Pulp" winner and improvised in Mad magazine fashion, "Quentin Tarantula thanks you all!"
Not bad, considering the Crazies do very, very little improv. Director Cherie Kerr and crew must now be regretting that they didn't name the show "Orange Pulp."
They make pulp of media icons, pop icons and some who have become both--such as former county treasurer Robert L. Citron (caricatured with relish by Robert Morris), who here is trying to turn his smudged fame into an infomercial.
That former infomercial queen who's stepped up to the chat-show circuit, Susan ("Stop the Madness!") Powter, receives a sharp grilling care of the ensemble's funniest actor, Nina Arnelli. Curiously, the skit's writers, Arnelli and Kerr, fail to keep it topical by never mentioning Powter's recent filing for bankruptcy protection.
And since bankruptcy in general is on everyone's mind, that's a slip-up for a group that prides itself on topicality. Where Orange County quirks have been the group's satiric pin cushion, the joke on O.C. has now gone national since L'Affair Citron.
In a sense, political events have caught up with the Crazies, creating a two-edged sword: While non-county residents may get the local references more easily than ever, daily headlines might outdistance the skits for satiric value. Good comics have to keep on top of things.
Perhaps wisely, the two-hour-plus show doesn't go top-heavy with local scandals: Citron is almost too easy a target. Not so wisely, the running skit is an overworked spoof of "Gone With the Wind," starring Harlot (Arnelli) and Rut (Rich Flin, doing a goofy Gable number complete with gigantic ears), which mostly allows Arnelli to show off her true clown self in a series of absurd costumes.
Still, it's a pretty pointless spoof that consumes precious chunks of time and throws off the show's rhythm. In the funky downstairs space dubbed "Club Crazie," the group can generate the right comic mood and make the kind of speedy scene changes that skit shows thrive on. Outside of the "Wind" business, this is the fastest, most theatrical Crazies show yet.
Despite a number of personnel changes (the few vets left are Eric Halasz, Flin and Toni Ala), Kerr's gang shows signs of growing into what should become a first-rate comedy team.
To be sure, the spectacular lapses in taste continue to hang around like a bad odor. This time it's a terrible video bit on overeating and a worse one titled "Fagtastic Sam's."
But there are too many solid turns to ignore: Janet Thornton and LizAnne (her Roseanne-like moniker) as bitchy airline hosts; Ala and Halasz as an idiotic husband-and-wife team; Arnelli, on a talk-show panel of opportunistic O.J.-trial authors, reading a nutty poem as fresh as the day's paper; and, most memorably, Randy Lopez in a completely unexpected and stunning Oscar show bit as Mandy Patinkin singing about himself.
With these kinds of surprises, and music support from the fine one-man band of Tom Zink, the Crazies' mad methods are producing some very solid results.
* "Gone With the Orange," Pacific Symphony Center, 115 E. Santa Ana Blvd., Santa Ana. Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends April 22. $12. (714) 550-9900. (The performance on Feb. 25, at 7:30 p.m., will be a benefit to raise funds for Michael Sweeney, the ailing brother of actor-comedian Julia Sweeney, who will make a guest appearance with the company. $25.) An Orange County Crazies production. Directed by Cherie Kerr. With Toni Ala, Nina Arnelli, Drake Doremus, Rich Flin, Steve Morris, Janet Thornton, Eric Halasz, LizAnne, Randy Lopez, Robert Morris. Musical director-keyboardist: Tom Zink. Lights: Christopher Welle. Video: Kerr.