Laffing Matterz Serves Up Smart, Nutritious Comedy

Things begin well at Laffing Matterz when your leggy waitress brings the special appetizer of the evening: risotto balls in a mushroom and goat cheese sauce. The mere mention of the dish is sufficiently food-pornish to make even those who don't dig dinner theater begin to feel a cautious optimism.

The balls are good, the sauce earthy without actually tasting like dirt. Your dinner date gets the sea bass with some kind of citrusy, pineapple salsa on top. It's divine — it tastes the way everything in the tropics should taste. You get the special entrée, a salmon with a wasabi crust so hard that, after the first bite, you wonder if the crunchy bits come from remnants of tooth. You order your third glass of sparkling wine.

Then it's dessert, and you're wondering when the show's gonna start, if they're gonna make you wait until every single person finishes every single plate. Funny should come with the fish, thankyewverymuch.

Weren't these folks just serving us drinks?
Weren't these folks just serving us drinks?

Details

Laffing Matterz, written by Rick Crom, Jim Ryan, Paul Muller, Eric Lane Barnes, Pete Mills, Michael Leeds, Rita Wells, Mark Wells, Sarah Dell'Amico, and Shawn Kilgore. Presented through June at the River Room at the Broward Center, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-462-0222, or click here.

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Your leggy waitress — Nicole is her name, and she's gorgeous — confirms that there's time to step outside for a smoke. You are grateful and a little mystified. You have been here for well over an hour. Laughing matters, or so you've heard, and thus far, there's been very little of it.

You come back in, and the nice man who introduces himself as "Mark, one of the owners," is onstage, introducing a song. Then there's your waitress and the entire freaking wait staff on the stage, singing a song called "What's Funny?" that you can tell was written by somebody who really wanted to know but didn't.

"What's Funny?" is an awful, awful song that can make you think really bad things about the night lying in wait. Anyone who thinks a meditation on the nature of humor can itself be humorous has little business writing a musical, least of all a funny one.

But then there's "The Mom Song," sung by zaftig bombshell Angela Thomas, and everything's OK. Simultaneously trenchant and giggle-worthy, it's a rapid-fire recital of all the commands and coos uttered by a mom over the course of the day. There's no telling what kind of waitress Thomas might be, but she's a helluva singer. "The Mom Song," like motherhood, doesn't give Thomas much room to breathe, and she's got to pick her spots well. She does, and she's perfect.

Miraculously, that's true of all the actors and actresses who were, moments ago, fetching your Sam Adamses and skirt steaks. I'm not sure where Mark and Rita Wells found these guys, but they will make you cough up your risotto balls with laughter.

Most of the material really is decently funny, though you may occasionally get the feeling that Laffing Matterz had one too many cooks in its creative kitchen. The songs range widely and perhaps a little randomly, from political satire to meditations on love to epidemiology in Boca Raton. The latter comes during perhaps the least-funny song of the night, "Outbreak," in which a bunch of aging Jewesses talk about how their post-menopausal sluttiness has led to an outbreak of V.D. among Boca's swingin' seniors. The randomness is OK, for the most part, but it's difficult to notice how smart, timely, and even righteous the satire can occasionally be.

Witness the "Burka Medley," which finds all the show's actresses wearing head-to-toe burkas and reenacting choice bits of recent musicals, with some of the words changed to reflect the local Afghani flava. The piece offers no jokes, not really, because the joke is the burka itself; the juxtaposition between the slavery it represents and the automatic freedom of the stage is a natural comedy motor. All the ladies have to do is jazz-finger from behind their veils and you helplessly giggle.

You'll find a precisely opposite but equally effective kind of comedy in a song called "Larry Craig" that should be named after the tag line of its chorus: "The Minneapolis Airport Men's Room Getting-to-Know-You Soft-Shoe." The song transforms Craig's failed, fateful airport rendezvous into a dance, which the singing senator — played by a delightful, nervously grinning Louis Silvers — is trying to turn into a dance craze. It's the kind of song that'll make you laugh first and think later.

When intermission comes, your waitress, Nicole, descends from the stage, flush from a haunting song about the havoc bad grammar can wreak on one's love life. She asks you if you want a drink, but you don't — this siren is a brilliant song stylist and an even more brilliant actress, and you'll be damned if she's going to serve you any longer. If anything, you should be serving her. Knowing that this role reversal is unlikely, you head outside for another cigarette. Nicole will get no rest, but you'll take one in her place. You light a Marlboro and extinguish it immediately: You cannot inhale, because your ribs hurt from laughing.

 
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