From Boston Arts contributors

''Tomfoolery,'' at the Charles through Dec. 31, takes the almost lost art of political satire, so popular in the '50s and '60s, and tosses it into the modern ring of the '80s.

It stands. This collection of songs by Tom Lehrer, many of them written when he was a mathematics professor at Harvard, has weathered the last three decades very well. His songs about The Bomb hit very close to home, especially now that ''The Day After'' has aired.

The set - a brick cabaret with plants, gold railings, and polished wooden floor - seems closer to today's ''fern bar'' than the dim coffeehouses where his songs were first heard, which shows that this isn't meant to be merely a nostalgic sendup.

Lehrer has something to offend everyone. Animal lovers may bristle at the lyrical ''Poisoning Pigeons in the Park,'' and feminists may glare at the effrontery of ''When You Are Old and Gray,'' but one finds oneself delighted nonetheless.

His humor pierces many cherished institutions: the Boy Scouts, marriage, the South, and Harvard among them. But it's done with such a light touch and is so elegantly and bizarrely constructed - who can fault a man who rhymes ''sturgeon'' with ''detergeon'' (in a song about pollution)? - that it's hard to stay annoyed. And while most of his targets are those associated with conservative causes, his blow dart gets the Audubon Society and untalented folk singers as well.

The troupe of four actors performing these songs is terrific. Silver-haired Terrence Currier does a dapper top-hat-and-cane number and adds a nice dash of maturity to an otherwise young group. Joseph Dellger plays the youthful parts and has a grin the size of Kansas. Timothy Jerome plays character roles, the best one being a nerdy myopic hunter who bags ''two game wardens, seven hunters, and a pure-bred Guernsey cow.'' Pamela McLernon plays all of the women's roles, ranging from a frazzled telephone operator to a sultry siren in ''Oedipus Rex.'' All of the performers have excellent vocal range. My only complaint about them is that they occasionally get too cute.

Geoffrey Ferris's choreography is particularly effective, using the small, multilevel stage to full advantage. Every tossed hat was caught on cue, and the performers scampered up and down the stairs with nary a stumble.

Warning: With songs like ''Vatican Rag,'' ''The Masochism Tango,'' and ''Smut ,'' the show may offend some viewers particularly - this is satire, folks. But it's balanced with as many light, fun PG songs as controversial ones. It pokes fun at the sentimentality and hypocrisy, neither of which was confined to the ' 60s.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.