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They’ve Tuned In to Fred Allen’s Humor

Fans of the late Fred Allen will assuredly enjoy a chance to revisit the radio comic’s deadpan wit and quiet integrity in “Mr. Allen, Mr. Allen” at the Whitefire Theatre. Featuring a perfectly cast Jack Riley (the acerbic Mr. Carlin from “The Bob Newhart Show”) in the title role, this affectionate, well-performed retrospective covers Allen’s broadcast career during the 1940s and ‘50s, when he supplied gentle pokes at a complacent society ripe for satire.

Playwright Arnold Peyser (who once wrote for Allen) situates the piece circa 1956 in an old New York radio studio, where the retired Allen and his former cast re-create some of their classic skits as they prepare for a reunion special for their old network, NBC.

Supplemented with actual broadcast snippets to help us appreciate the authenticity, the versatile ensemble glides effortlessly between depicting the believably close-knit performers and their recurring oddball characters who populated “Allen’s Alley"--the blustering Deep South Sen. Claghorn (Glenn Taranto); the Jewish busybody Mrs. Nussbaum (Diane Botnick); the boozy Irish hypochondriac Ajax Cassidy (Ted Schwartz); the curmudgeonly Mr. Moody (William Knight); and Allen’s life and show-biz partner, Portland (Denise Moses), whose tirelessly perky signature intro bit furnished the play’s title. Whitney Rydbeck appears as Allen’s long-running mock-feud opponent, Jack Benny.

Interwoven with the sketches are reminiscences of Allen’s recurring battles with NBC over his edgier jokes about sponsors and the wave of anti-communist hysteria permeating the industry. Peyser’s script does not delve much into these darker issues--even the network censors and executives are played as cartoonishly as the characters on Allen’s show. Honoring the author’s essentially nostalgic intent, director Pamela Hall reserves realism for the longtime friendships between Allen and his troupe.

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* “Mr. Allen, Mr. Allen,” Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 and 7 p.m. Runs indefinitely. $25. (323) 655-TKTS. Time: 2 hours.


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