Wit and Caricature

Sketches parody everything from domesticity to a Pentagon ethics test. THEATER: REVIEW

LAUGHING MATTERS Review with sketches by Linda Wallem and Peter Tolan. Music and lyrics by Mr. Tolan. Directed by Martin Charnin. Starring Ms. Wallem and Tolan. At the Theatre at Saint Peter's Church. `LAUGHING MATTERS'' is a playful title for a mirthful antic. Created and performed by Linda Wallem and Peter Tolan, this bright new entertainment perks up a waning theatrical season with its sassy commentaries on life in these United States. Under Martin Charnin's direction, the two satirists perform their material with spontaneity and aplomb.

The sketch titles indicate the nature of the subjects. ``Weird Interlude: A Good Table at a Bad Restaurant'' catalogs the horrors of a blind date with a total nerd. In ``The Ten-Percent Solution,'' the ultimate talent agent receives a visit from a teen-age rock star with delusions of acting and a six-month future. ``Nightmare on M Street'' imagines the labyrinthine twists and turns of a Pentagon ``ethics test.''

Age differentials within a marriage occupy ``The Gap,'' set in the incongruously romantic environs of the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center. Champaign-Urbana, Ill., provides the settings for a couple of exposures to the devastating domesticity of Mr. and Mrs. Middle America. The production covers transitions and scene changes with offstage dialogues called ``Inner Thoughts.''

Most of the sketches acquire the status of playlets. This is particularly true of ``Reunion,'' in which a 57th Street panhandler and a very upscale New York achiever discover that they are fellow graduates of a Midwestern high school. Equally ambitious in their own way are the musical lampoons for which Mr. Tolan supplied words and music. The artful parodist has imagined an Irving Berlin ``Metamorphosis'' (with a very Merman-ish Ms. Wallem), a Stephen Sondheim ``Fun With Dick and Jane,'' and a Kander-and-Ebb ``Iliad.'' The ``Forbidden Broadway'' comics could scarcely do it better.

As writer-observers, the two young collaborators prove themselves literate and witty as well as sharply topical. The svelte Wallem and the chubby Tolan segue from one exchange to the next with the kind of immediate characterization that adds perspective to caricature.

Ray Recht's scenery and lighting make a virtue of quick-change simplicity. Jade Hobson has coordinated a costume wardrobe that includes Isaac Mizrahi's outfits for Wallem and Giorgio Armani's menswear for Tolan. How Upper East Side Manhattan can you get?

``Laughing Matters'' is a thoroughly laughing matter.

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