Knock-Off

Somewhere there’s a CD of a never-aired show vaudeville survivor Eddie Cantor was giving to a radio audience who didn’t yet know they’d been bumped for the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He kept doing the only thing he knew how to, and this was what they’d rather be hearing anyway. Cold War-era TV was in many ways one prolonged vamp to divert viewers’ attention from the country coming apart around them, and Titter Time shows the center cracking pretty thoroughly too.

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We’re at the end of 1968 and on the set of some desperate duplicate of the real world’s Laugh-In, opened by smarmy co-host Larry (Tucker Dally Johnston) and doggedly upbeat chanteuse Julie (Melissa McGuire); their respective slapstick and music-hall shtick is already far out of date, but reminds us of the way that major-network-approved counterculture could be largely composed of warmed-over cheese from a generation or two before. Larry and Julie are refugees from a world whose illusions are being cancelled, but Julie may make it into a new one if she can escape from Larry.

The Carruthers Brothers (Smothers Brothers stand-ins who’ve taken the reverse draft-dodge route from Canada) make political jokes and tempt the network censors’ wrath; Julie’s sister Jackie (Brianna Sauvage) insists on singing protest anthems to deliberately sabotage the show; a dance team of Sammy (Brendan Patrick McGlynn) and Marianne (Emily Edwards) keeps falling over the line of acceptable body-language and behavior; and the episode is disrupted every few minutes by content- (and cast-) revisions called down from the sponsors (an apparent nod to the real-life Laugh-In imitation Turn-On, which in many markets was canceled after its debut episode’s first commercial).

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The sketch segment “Sassy Secretaries” alternates with a backstage conflict over getting one of its female stars’ scripts to be read by the sexist head writer Leo (Craig Anderson); the sketch itself, wittily accompanied by the enforced cheer of a period-accurate laugh-track, lets Mim Granahan cut loose in the whole play’s most vivid performance as the sardonic senior secretary speaking wisecracks to male authority (her character-within-a-character even gets named “Maude”).

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Granahan, who also wrote this portion, has an unfailing ear for period speech and structures and would have been a good choice to script the whole evening; the framing off-air narrative sometimes feels more like a sitcom of the era than a view of how people talked and acted. But the dancers are phenomenal (and usual boy-next-door McGlynn’s persona as an evil sleazeball a refreshing revelation); Sauvage is an astounding singer and this is the closest I’ll ever get to hearing “Blue” in Joni’s old voice; Josh Hartung and Adam Files as the Carruthers Brothers at times hit the mark of their models’ subversive wit; and Johnston and McGuire are 100% committed to their crassness and innocence respectively. The show ends with an uprising of sorts whose principals know their careers may die for the cause, but to us it’s 50 years later and we know at least that the revolution will be rerun.

Continues through Dec. 15, 2018, details here.

Photos: Mike Cho

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