Leave It to Beverly
This send-up of sitcoms can't solve its problems as smoothly as the old shows it spoofs did
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., Nov. 13, 2009
Leave It to Beverly
The Off Center, through Nov. 21
Running time: 2 hr
Does anyone else recall The Beverly Hillbillies' crossover with Petticoat Junction? It all started when Granny went to Hooterville to help Bobbie Jo have ... well, what happened doesn't matter
as much as that it did happen, that these two separate sitcoms were suddenly in the same universe (with Green Acres, which was also set in Hooters-ville, as Eva Gabor habitually pronounced it). This sort of series interaction occurred so rarely in TV Land, it gave the standard tomfoolery a wacky kick.
Kirk German seeks to, ahem, channel that particular TV vibe in Leave It to Beverly, his new play consisting of three "episodes" of different invented sitcoms that all take place in one suburban neighborhood, Morningwood Heights, and share the same cast. To ramp up the goofy factor further, his faux shows' characters are mashed up from real series in the Fifties and Sixties. Beverly is a starched-dress-and-pearl-necklace-wearing hausfrau combining Leave It to Beaver's June Cleaver, The Donna Reed Show's Donna Stone, and Father Knows Best's Margaret Anderson. The lead in Trixie Knows Best is a magical, nose-twitching pixie made of equal parts Bewitched's Samantha and I Dream of Jeannie's Jeannie. And Make Room for Lorraine centers on a perky bundle of high spirits in capri pants mixing The Dick Van Dyke Show's Laura Petrie with I Love Lucy's you-know-who. As we go from show to show (with Connor Hopkins' one-set-fits-all kitchen mocking sitcom sets' interchangeability), the separate episode plots link to a larger storyline playing on the characters' awareness that they're living in a world of canned laughter and easily resolved domestic dramas.
Now, German knows his vintage sitcoms and shows in his script a clear affection for the women in them – both the actresses and the characters they played. But just because these shows abided by certain conventions, because they'd introduce problems and wrap them up in a brisk half-hour or lean on archetypes for certain characters (the nutty neighbor, the busybody) doesn't mean they were simple or that their comedy is easily replicated. These sitcoms remain memorable after 40 and 50 years because of the coherent, cohesive worlds they created and the quality of the performances in them. As appealing and game as the actors in this Da! Theatre Collective production are, their levels of experience and talent are too varied to sustain the kind of even tone that would hold their sitcom world together. And German's desire to add depth to these purposefully one-note characters and liberate his heroines from the shackles of their prefeminist society – shades of Pleasantville! – just makes the tone all the more uneven.
Not that Beverly is without pleasures. The material is well served when the performances are broad but focused, as with Heather Huggins' sunny Beverly and Chris Gibson's gruff, gray-flannel-suited hubby. The zippy dance breaks choreographed by Lisa del Rosario always give the show a lift. Jude Hickey's spot-on channeling of Agnes Moorehead on Bewitched, complete with heavy blue eye shadow and thick false lashes, deserves an award of some kind. And to be fair, when I saw the show, the crowd guffawed like one of those live studio audiences so many sitcoms were filmed in front of. If it appears I'm doing a mash-up of Petticoat Junction's crabby Homer Bedloe and The Lucy Show's cranky Mr. Mooney here, well, what do you expect from a guy who still recalls, fondly, the time the Beverly Hillbillies stayed at the Shady Rest Hotel?