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Theater review: 'The Wasps' at the Lost Studio Theatre

July 9, 2009 |  3:30 pm

Academic When the Greek Chorus of "The Wasps," harmonizing like a barbershop quartet, promises "an old-time comedy," they're not kidding -- Aristophanes' classic satire has been running, off and on, since 422 B.C.

The actors preparing to stage the piece may coyly admit at the outset that they'd prefer something more modern, chalking the choice of material up to affordable royalty fees.  But there's nothing arbitrary here -- director-adapter-composer Meryl Friedman knows exactly what she's doing with her witty, freewheeling vaudevillian update. Originally commissioned to inaugurate the 2006 opening of the indoor auditorium at Malibu's classical-themed Getty Villa, the production has been remounted at the Lost Studio Theatre. 

Highbrow purists need not apply -- Friedman and her seven-man troupe gleefully gut the text as they set out to recapture the irreverent spirit of  Aristophanes' style of comedy, more closely aligned with modern slapstick than heavily footnoted academia. All you need to know by way of background is that in ancient Athens, juries consisted of retirees bribed by the state, whose invariably harsh, stinging (and irreversible) verdicts earned them the nickname of "Wasps."

One particularly cranky juror (Peter Van Norden) goes by the name of Pro-state (out of his sense of patriotic allegiance), making him the target of awful puns ("Are you Prostate?" / "No, I'm standing up").   The story, such as it is, involves the efforts of his upstart son (Albert Meijer), an Elvis Presley-style crooner, to get Dad to renounce his vocation, get a social life, and preside as judge over the trial of their family dog (Robert Alan Beuth) accused of stealing cheese. John Apicella, Mark Doerr, Hubert Hodgin, Steve Totland and music director-accompanist David O. do their skillful best to ensure that plot  intricacies never obscure the prime directive that stupid is good.

-- Philip Brandes

"The Wasps," the Lost Studio Theatre, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 26. $27.50. (800) 838-3006. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

Photo: Cast of "The Wasps." Credit: Stinger Productions.