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Entertainment & Arts

Review: What would a theater critic write to the creator of ‘Letters From a Nut’? Well, let’s start with ...

Ted L. Nancy (Barry Marder) in “Letters From a Nut by Ted. L. Nancy” at the Geffen Playhouse.
Ted L. Nancy (Barry Marder) in “Letters From a Nut by Ted. L. Nancy” at the Geffen Playhouse.
(Chris Whitaker)
Theater Critic

Dear Ted L. Nancy:

Congratulations on the success of your series of “Letters From a Nut” books. I have to admit I never heard of them until I received an invitation to attend your show at the Geffen Playhouse, but then the last humor book I read was Erma Bombeck’s “The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank” in the seventh grade!

I love to laugh, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t think I’d enjoy spending all that time reading the voluminous correspondence of an eccentric crank whose mission is to get customer service agents to whiff at complaining curve balls. One or two letters would be plenty for me.

I see that Jerry Seinfeld, your old boss, not only was an early champion of your books but also went on to produce this theatrical presentation. I hope you will keep your good fortune in mind when I say to you, with all due respect, the show is not very good. And by “not very good” I’m avoiding saying something much harsher.

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What didn’t I like about “Letters From a Nut by Ted L. Nancy”? Basically, everything. But let me try to be more specific. The production (which seems like too fancy a word) feels thrown together, a mishmash of letters, stand-up and video skits, served with an incongruous pickling of surreal shtick.

Pierre Balloón is credited as the director, but his name and program bio (“He specializes in abstract films using stark images and vivid colors”) suggest you’re pulling another of your fast ones. Come on, tell the truth: No one directed this, right?

Speaking of names, I understand that yours is actually Barry Marder. I thought it better, however, to address this to your alter ego, Ted L. Nancy, to show that I’m willing to play along. Also, Ted seems to be the responsible party here, so let him bear the brunt while you cash the check. Not a bad little arrangement you’ve worked out for yourself.

Beth Kennedy, onstage with Barry Marder in “Letters From a Nut.”
Beth Kennedy, onstage with Barry Marder in “Letters From a Nut.”
(Chris Whitaker)

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I wish I could say nice things about the two actors who joined you onstage, but I really wasn’t all that impressed with Beth Kennedy, who plays the various customer service representatives responding to your nutty queries. I found her silly wigs, fake mustaches and gung-ho delivery to be just too much. She was practically begging for laughs.

And I had no idea what Sam Kwasman was doing dressed as Pagliacci. I guess the sad clown getup was supposed to be loopy, but it just made me shrug, like a bad skit on David Letterman, another guy you used to write for. (Seinfeld and Letterman — no one would suspect it, were you standing on the checkout line of your favorite store, Ralphs, in your windbreaker and baggy trousers.)

I hope this letter doesn’t make me sound like a curmudgeon. I’ll confess I had a mini outburst of road rage while heading to the Geffen. Construction near the intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards stopped traffic, and all the Beverly Hills shoppers and agents were practically driving on the sidewalks to wedge in front of me. But I made it to the theater in plenty of time and was looking forward to a few mindless giggles on a summer night.

I didn’t think your low-key opening monologue would be the show’s high point. I laughed hard when you talked about needing to go on a second diet because the first one didn’t allow you enough food. But then I just kept waiting for the hilarity to kick into high gear. I think I might have tittered at some of the hotels jokes you told when you stepped away from the monotonous letters to do more stand-up, but I doubt anyone heard me.

Sam Kwasman, sad clown.
Sam Kwasman, sad clown.
(Chris Whitaker)

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My advice: If you’re going to perform, you have to bring more of yourself to the stage. You can’t hide behind a bunch of letters, which don’t really tell a story and so are best left between the covers of books that people store in their back seats and bathrooms. I’ll admit that I’m not one of those theatergoers who hear the words “Ziploc” or “Best Western” and bust a gut, but this show is never going to duplicate the success of “Love Letters.”

One factual matter: An announcer kept insisting that the responses you received were real, which was hard to believe. I will say that the letter addressed to you from the Ahmanson Theatre that was hanging in the lobby seemed humorously credible. Maybe you should have added that one and cut the video bit about the old woman who uses all the junk she finds in the crevices of her couch to bake some goodies. That was long and kind of disgusting, if you don’t mind my being completely frank with you.

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Mr. Nancy, you seem like a nice man, who like many comics maybe suffers from what Winston Churchill called the “black dog.” I hope this letter doesn’t darken your mood. May I suggest you read some of the reviews for your books on Amazon to buoy your spirits. And if you still feel down, you can always fire off one of your screwball missives to my office.

Respectfully,

Charles McNulty

Theater Critic

Los Angeles Times

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

‘Letters From a Nut by Ted L. Nancy’

Where: Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; ends July 30

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Tickets: Start at $65

Information: (310) 208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.org

Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

charles.mcnulty@latimes.com

Follow me @charlesmcnulty

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