Nothing's Sacred in 'Pulp Nellie'

A Jewish mother's worst dilemma: She finds out her son is gay, but he's dating a doctor.

That's one of the few printable jokes in "Pulp Nellie," an evening of take-no-prisoners sketch comedy from the Nellie Olesons at Highways. The New York-based troupe's assaults on taste, sexual orientation and political correctness push way past the more mainstream boundaries observed by kindred companies like the Groundlings and Acme Comedy Theatre. While sometimes overreaching, the Nellies' satirical forays are usually incisive and hilarious enough to justify their risky (and risque) flirting with the offensive.

The 25-segment compilation of new and previously toured material benefits from the formidable talents of co-founder Nora Burns, a first-rate comedian who also contributed the best writing. Her most memorable creations include Menorah, a Madonna wannabe touring the bar mitzvah circuit as "Everybody's favorite Goy Toy," infomercial huckster Cathy Porn (an X-rated descendant of SCTV's Lola Heatherton) and a signer silently translating the agenda at a feminist/New Age convention into a sidesplitting, rapid-fire series of invented hand signals (sorry, but we can't print a single one).

The other Nellies skillfully cast whimsical lights on social issues--a rock duet by Disney heroines-in-drag Pocahontas and "Aladdin's" Princess Jasmine (Terrence Michael and John Cantwell) stirs our consciences with the neglected plight of one-shot animated ingenues, and Marissa Copeland is outstanding as a narrow-minded housewife undergoing shock therapy for homophobia.

Less successful skits can run too long (like the one-note game show "Top or Bottom?" and Michael's very funny but overextended turn as Joan Crawford doing temp work). Some payoffs don't live up to the setup (running commentary by a trio of clucking beauty parlor patrons), and a particularly dubious scene about a child molester over-intellectualizes its comedy past any emotionally acceptable frame of reference. Those are the chances you take when you're playing this close to the edge.

* "Pulp Nellie," Highways, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. Thursdays-Sundays, 8:30 p.m. Ends Jan. 19. $15. (213) 660-8587. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

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