Only Kidding
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by Charles Jarrett

How often have you verbally abused someone in your life then quickly smiled and said, “only kidding.” The person you abused is usually not laughing because they know, on a gut level, that you meant every word. Well, nobody is better at using verbal abuse to illicit laughter from an audience than a standup comedian. They usually pick on someone in the audience, like an overweight person, and make fat jokes all night long.

In Playhouse West’s production, Only Kidding by Jim Geoghan, Jackie Dwayne (Roland Scrivner) is just such a comedian. “He verbally hacks us up like a chainsaw through rice pudding,” says Sheldon Kelinski (Rusty Gilland), a young comedy writer that tries to work with Dwayne in the opening scene of this drama. Dwayne is a crusty old comedian who’s been through several marriages; his wives never waiting around long enough for him to say “take my wife, please.”

Writer Jim Geoghan spent nine years performing standup comedy around the country. After his 30th birthday he gave it up and became a fulltime writer. But it’s evident that his standup experience provided an edgy realism to this drama which shows the tears lurking behind each laugh the comedian evokes and the hate that feeds his comic genius. Or as Dwayne says, “I found the one emotion that binds us all. Hate!”

In scene two we meet a younger version of Dwayne. Jerry Goldstein (Raffi Kondy) also runs on hate and alcohol but adds drugs to his lethal falling mix of standup. He’s part of a comedy team with Tom Kelly (David Hern). An Irish comedian, Kelly openly admits, “I’m Irish. The ice cube is my birth stone.” But unlike Goldstein, Kelly has been able to control the temptations of drugs and alcohol. Even though he’s not a born again Catholic, he’s a firm believer in you reap what you sow, and when Goldstein is ready to jump into a deal with the mob that will put them on the world famous Buddy King Show, Kelly says no and the two comedians go their separate ways.

Scene three takes place three years later at the Buddy King Show. Kelinski is King’s stage manager, Kelly his writer, and two comics are about to get their shot on King’s show. You guessed it; Dwayne and Goldstein are the two comics. Goldstein hasn’t changed. In fact he’s become meaner and tries to use his mob muscle to drop Dwayne from the show. Dwayne on the other hand has changed completely. After a recent heart attack, he’s become a more lovable guy who is into Yoga, deep breathing and a whole new style of comedy that doesn’t demean people because of their ethnicity, excess fat or sexual orientation.

Though the entire play is really funny, that dark edge is removed in the final scene providing a purer form of comedy that unites the entire audience in a karmic laughter that moves us to a higher chakra.

For tickets or more information call Walnut Creek’s Playhouse West at (925) 942-0300.

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