On Theater: Rudner's new turn will tickle audiences

Audiences most certainly will be "Tickled Pink" when they catch the new comedy by that title now in its world premiere run at the Laguna Playhouse.

It's the brainchild of popular comedienne — and Monarch Bay resident — Rita Rudner and her husband, Martin Bergman, who also directs. It's based on Rudner's early showbiz career and some (though certainly not all) of it may be true.

Rudner's tale is told through the superbly talented Emma Fassler who, when she finally breaks through as a standup comic, playgoers could close their eyes and imagine Rudner speaking this ironic, self-deprecating dialogue. It's sort of like watching Owen Wilson do a pitch-perfect Woody Allen in the movie "Midnight in Paris."

"Tickled Pink" is an ensemble effort and, yes, Rudner herself appears, though merely as a cog in her show's 13-performer wheel. But when she's on — costumed and bewigged beyond recognition — audiences will spot her brilliant comedic talent.

It's Fassler, however, around whom the show revolves, and Rudner could not have chosen a better surrogate to illustrate her mostly comic but occasionally deadly serious pseudo-biography.

As Mindy Solomon from Miami, who ventures to New York to seek a dancing career, but who switches to standup — as Rudner did — Fassler hits all the right notes in an exemplary performance.

Mindy aligns with a lovely blonde roommate, Ursula, beautifully interpreted by Annie Abrams, who becomes her best friend and, accidentally, her arch-rival, scoring the leading role in a TV sitcom originally meant for Fassler's character. Their tenuous relationship thereafter is skillfully enacted.

Michael Kirby exhibits understated charm as Mitch, the show's co-creator whose romance with Mindy suffers as well. Nick Massouh takes on the deliciously slimy character of Tommy, Ursula's husband who puts the moves on Mindy.

Moving the story onto more serious turf is Betsy Reisz as Penelope, Mindy's friend and fellow writer who suffers an unkind twist of fate. Floyd van Buskirk has a neat little cameo as Mindy's uncultured father, left to his own devices in a cluttered apartment he cleans once a year.

Other ensemble members — Greg Bryan, Eileen Galindo, Brett Glazer, Eric Curtis Johnson, Brian Lohmann, Robert Yacko — spin in and out of the episodic show in various guises, wheeling scenic elements on and off stage in the process.

As for Rudner, she's a genuine hoot as Ursula's viciously Teutonic mother, but she's most impressive during an exercise segment when she twists her limber body every which way but loose. She's not even given a special spot during the ensemble curtain call, though she certainly deserves one.

The setting, by D. Martyn Bookwalter, is minimalist, but David Mickey's rear-projection scenic elements set the location of the various scenes perfectly. Dwight Richard Odle's 1970s-era costumes fill the bill quite nicely.

There's a little cleanup work to be done as this project moves along, hopefully to a Broadway or off-Broadway production. The ensemble probably will be shortened and tightened, if only for economic reasons, but there's little room for improvement at its core.

You'll likely be "Tickled Pink" when you catch this world premiere, a labor of love by a terrific husband and wife team who have chosen the Laguna Playhouse as their launching pad.

TOM TITUS covers local theater for the Coastline Pilot.

If You Go

What: "Tickled Pink"

Where: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

When: at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays, and at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through May 20, with a special Thursday matinee at 2 p.m. May 10.

Cost: $30 to $70

Call: (949) 497-2787

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