On Theater: Wedding jitters exacerbated with wonderfully witty bite

Think of striking oil in your own backyard and you'll have the perfect metaphor for "Enlightenment.com," the second and final offering of Vanguard University's professional arm, the American Coast Theater Company.

The playwright, Warren Doody, has taught English at Vanguard for 14 years and written several other scripts, one of which, "Development," will be part of Vanguard's 2012-13 season. As for "Enlightenment.com," it's as sharp, fresh and funny as anything you'll see this year.

Love in the digital age is the theme for this ultra-modern comedy, which blends its sitcom plot with the farcical antics of its minor characters, which is a misnomer; all six of the players make major contributions.

Director Susan K. Berkompas, the creator and motivating force behind ACTC, delivers a snappy, upbeat production of this treatise on pre-wedding jitters, and casts her most accomplished actress — herself — in a key supporting role. It's a lot for one woman's plate, but Berkompas is adept at multi-tasking.

Doody's plot centers on Vince (Jeff Fazakerley), a nervous guy in his 30s who's about to wed for the first time to Bonnie (Andrea Carpenter), who has her own reservations, starting with the fact that Vince almost got married once before, but his fiancee left him at the altar and he still may be carrying a torch.

The situation is hardly alleviated by the arrival of Dixie, Bonnie's Southern-fried mother (Berkompas), who's no great fan of Vince and believes her daughter could do better. Roiling the waters even further is Brad (James McHale), Vince's buddy and best man, a pediatrician who meddles electronically into the proceedings.

Stirring things to a boil are the arrivals of two old flames: a pixilated English professor (Paul Eggington), who once dated Bonnie despite a wide age difference, and Alison (Kristi Pruett), the gal who walked out on Vince before fleeing for an ashram in India.

Fazakerley attacks Doody's dialogue with relish, the kind you spread on hot dogs, as he steers this snappy comedy in and out of farcical waters. Carpenter isn't quite as sharp, but she makes the most out of her showcase scenes and holds her own in times of conflict.

Berkompas has an absolute ball with her mother-hen character, employing a Southern drawl left over from her Blanche in ACTC's first show, "A Streetcar Named Desire," several seasons ago. McHale tilts the balance of the show as the crafty kiddie doc with the hots for his buddy's ex and the technical acumen to short-circuit the situation.

These are the straight characters. The real hilarity comes from the surprise guests: Eggington's Beefeater guard-costumed character, in a dueling mood and fueled by gulps of gin, and the sultry Pruett, overflowing with east Indian mysticism, who employs hypnotic powers in an attempt to rekindle old flames. She doesn't show up until the last line of the first act, but virtually commands the second.

Scenic designer Rebekah Killam's modernistic setting is starkly appointed in reds, whites and blacks, with a kitchen that doubles as a doctor's office. Zach Simons has designed a sharply effective lighting plot with clap-on, clap-off functionality.

Few new comedies (only "Elemenopea" at South Coast Repertory comes to mind) are blessed with the biting wit and freewheeling performance talent of "Enlightenment.com." It's a comedic gem in its West Coast premiere for ACTC at Vanguard University.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "Enlightenment.com"

Who: American Coast Theater Company

Where: Lyceum Theater, Vanguard University, 55 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 12

Cost: $15 to $20

Contact: (714) 619-6424, http://www.AmericanCoastTheater.org

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