A NoHo Arts theatre review of Write Act Repertory’s production of “The Funny Man,” written by Willard Manus, directed by Judith Rose, produced by John Lant and starring Sam Aaron, running through July 17 at the Brickhouse Theatre.
“The Funny Man” is a very clever play about the infamous writer S.J. Perelman who became the creator of the early Marx Brothers movies and was a permanent fixture at “The New Yorker” where he perfected the art of the humorist writer.
The scene is set at the University of Santa Barbara, where Perelman is invited to lecture to the creative writing students on how to be a creative writer. Of course, this can hardly be taught, let alone lectured about to a bunch of 20 year olds by a man old enough to be their grandfather, and about whom they probably know nothing. So Perlman, acknowledging this, proceeds to talk about his life, how he came to be a writer, why he only writes humorously, and how anyone can ever really make a living out of being an observational, opinionated, and very funny man.
It’s a lovely premise, one man alone on stage with his only company his audience, and his stage manager who plays sporadic music on cue and sometimes not on cue. Sam Aaron becomes Perelman in all his glory and walks us gently through the man himself.
“The Funny Man” is as if the very best after-dinner speaker in the world were to wander into a theatre, flick on the microphone and proceed to entertain you for about an hour. Perelman’s life is his art and as he unfolds it for our entertainment he finds reason and understanding in his own journey. It’s a kind of self discovery as much as it is a monologue of a life. And it’s the discovery that is, in fact, the most interesting thing.
Sam Aaron is wonderful as Perelman, all self-effacing brilliance and uncovered, stumbled-upon epiphanies.
It reminds me a little of the show “The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel,” in that the place in time is as important as the story and the character. S.J. Perelman is a man of a very particular time. He could not have become himself in any other moment in history – the beginning of comedic film, radio, humorous essays and commentary. Could any of this still exist in the world anymore in our present moment of fire? I think not.
So, it is with reverence that we must hold onto these brilliant people like S.J. Perelman whose unintentional iconic status must give us hope that you can always find a laugh in anything, no matter how dark the times and dire the circumstances, and that we can perhaps create ourselves out of the mess we are collectively in…one can only hope!
“The Funny Man” is only running for a couple more weeks, so don’t dawdle!!
Running through July 17
Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 1:30pm
Write Act Repertory at The Brickhouse Theatre
10950 Peach Grove St, NoHo Arts District, 91601