Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Talented Troupe Scores at Hanna

Cleveland Press April 20, 1965

There's an appealing offbeat quality to the show that opened at the Hanna last night, an extremely funny group of performers at work in it, but some curiously variable material that ranges from hilarious to downright flat.

The show represents material drawn from the improvisational theater conceived in Chicago and called the Second City shows. It is a topical review in which the performers kid society, its foibles and its pretenses.

It is less tied to news items than you might expect. Timeliest of these is a brief bit inspired by the Gemini rocket. Another, entitled "Republican Party -- 1968," is strangely out of date in spite of the year appended to the title.

THE BEST SKETCHES are also the shortest. Some lasting only a moment or two are extremely deft in evoking laughter.

There are six performers, four men and two women. A seventh member of the company is pianist-composer William Mathieu.

There are a couple of songs in the show, but for the rest the thumping of the piano is used as background music for the sketches. Not only is this unneeded it is often distracting, especially when the playing obliterates a word or two, often the key word in a punch line.

BILL ALTON APPEARS in most of the sketches, introduces many of them, serves frequently as a straight man for the others. Severn Darden is a bewhiskered man who looks like a young Peter Ustinov.

Robert Beneditti is a big man who can work himself into a rage, comic or otherwise. David Steinberg is smallish, appears as an oddball character -- the first Eskimo folk singer for example -- in most of the sketches.

Sally Hart figures in most of the sketches, sings most of the songs. Judy Graubart looks more the kookie type.

I LIKED the sketch about the fake faith healer (Beneditti), another that parodied a Japanese movie that was reminiscent of some of the early Sid Caesar work, and the previously mentioned Eskimo folk singer.

"A walrus is an animal, yes indeed," he sings.

"Kinda makes you think," he then reflects.

But in most instances the humor is in individual lines rather than the entire sketch. It is a case of the parts being greater than the whole.

Some of the sketches are overlong, self - consciously arty, even obscure. Some reach no real conclusion, but just stop. Others abandon subtlety, resort to crudities to get laughs.

The appeal is in the people in this show young, fresh and skillful. Though the material is uneven, much of it is good and the performers do well by it.