Illegitimate Theater

It’s part Milton Berle, part Bob Hope, part vaudeville, part farce, with a big dose of camp thrown in for good measure. The Ladies Auxiliary might find it irresistible. It’s Love Child. Unlike vaudeville, though, there are no costumes or even hand props. The performers remain in their street clothes throughout the performance, making Candice Donnelly’s costuming job perhaps the easiest in all New York City theater. What you do get for 80 minutes are two middle-aged men (writer-performers Daniel Jenkins and Robert Stanton) running around, playing many characters simultaneously, and frequently screaming. Stanton and Jenkins are perhaps a bit too fond of inventing their own sound effects for everything taking place in their world, including various bodily functions. Imagine two droll Robin Williams’ verbally going at each other, sometimes oblivious and possibly high on speed, and you’ve got Love Child.

Competently directed by Carl Forsman, the production is ridiculous and waggish. Several of the characters are trying to mount an updated version of Euripedes’ Ion in a theater in Red Hook. Joel, the production’s manager/actor, played by Jenkins, gets an opening night visit from his eccentric aunt (Stanton) and his disturbed mother, also played by Jenkins, and the ancient story of the bastard child, Ion, becomes a real-life adventure for the confused Joel, as he learns the identity of his biological father.

Neil Patel’s set is essentially a phone in, with huge drop cloths draped over paintings, possibly from another show. The set itself consists of six chairs which Jenkins and Stanton use as launch pads to strenuously portray 20 less than hilarious characters in this manic game of musical chairs. Lighting design by Jeff Croiter and Grant Yeager is smart and crisp; at one point they briefly transform the stage into a disco.

Stanton and Jenkins are not untalented. Though their knowing and frequently politically incorrect brand of humor picks some easy targets — effeminate men, welfare mothers, the homeless, their impressions — of Joel’s neurotic mother and a Mexican talk show host, for example —are temporarily interesting in an over-the-top way. Their timing is impeccably precise; they have clearly worked hard on this show.

The problem is that Love Child just isn’t funny. The bit that drew the biggest laugh was a recurring one where Stanton slips on a greasy floor. Yuk-yuk! For a second I thought the ghost of Sid Caesar might materialize, until I remembered that he’s still alive. Ba-dummm-chhh!

One problem is that Stanton and Jenkins jump too frenetically from character to character and situation to situation; it's like a Family Guy episode. After a while, you stop trying to pay attention and just let the waves of cheese wash over you. This brand of comedy is so antique, so bygone, so outmoded that I wouldn’t be surprised if Love Child someday becomes a hit on the Buffalo dinner theater circuit.

All in all, Love Child is another harmless mediocrity in the dysfunctional family comedy genre. In this case, the family is a theater family. Stanton and Jenkins valiantly attempt to lace the comedy with anecdotal profundity that, more often than not, also flops.

With the possible exceptions of two brief and semi-clever quasi-musical numbers, Love Child is, in a word: lame. A lady in front of me kept flicking on a blue LED light to check her watch. It was annoying but I peeked over her shoulder every time she did it.

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