Where’s Annette?

Twenty-three insanely inventive actors. A hilarious script. And a world-class guitarist to strum them through the scene changes. And they do it all without Annette!

It’s Hope Juber and Jeff Doucette’s ad lib extravaganza Without Annette, now having its World Premiere at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks.

The play works on a simple, uncluttered premise: an improv class run by Sam Wasserman (Jeff Doucette, alternating every other week with Mark Beltzman), an old-time actor who serves as guru for a varied group of eccentric thespians. (In fact, the role mirrors the real life of both men, who are actors, writers, and directors as well as veterans of Chicago’s Second City.)

The audience members, who are cast as “auditors” of the class, are also called upon to shout out from time to time objects or places that the actors must weave into their improvised routines. The results are invariably witty, zany, and hysterical.

As a director, Sam is described as “completely adequate” by one of the students as he launches them into a “self-discovery” exercise. Whereupon a tiny Chinese girl, Libby, (Julia Morizawa, alternating with Corinne Dekker) wails that everything about her is considered average, but yet “there is nobody who is like me.”

She also bemoans the fact that older women in films are only cast as “grandmas or real estate agents,” and complains “It’s not my fault I’m not sexy—I’m ASIAN!”

Then there is C.J. Carter (Gary Robinson/Shea Scullin), a mountain of an ex-football player who now sells insurance and is seeking to Improve his people skills. He is awkward, shy, and skeptical and it’s fun to watch him gradually come into his own.

And Hogan Connely (Charlie Mount/Bill Chott) who talks about time spent selling a script and calls it his “fantasy weekend.” (Mount, in addition to acting and directing, served for eight years as Artistic Director of The Chestnuts Theatre program at Theatre West, where his hit play Against The Wall ran this spring and summer.)

Kyle Klein and his twin brother Jeremy, and Matthew Shane take turns playing Kyle, a morose teenager. Tara Ciabattoni and Christina Engelhardt alternate as Jeanette Parker, a successful actress and femme fatale, and Timothy Walker and Adam Ball play Michael Gaines, who, because he is moderately successful professionally and an egotist personally, takes on the role of unsolicited leader and bosses everyone around.

In one of the last exercises, the “class” is directed to do a complete advertising campaign for a new product. The product, suggested by an audience member is “bleach.” Working spontaneously, the group describes the product, writes a slogan and a jingle, and writes and acts an entire commercial—all within the five-minute limit specified by Director Sam. None of it makes any sense, but it’s hilarious.

Hope Juber, the co-playwright, is best known for her smash hit musicals It’s the Housewives! and A Very Brady Musical. Her husband is Laurence Juber, an amazing guitarist and veteran of Paul McCartney’s Wings. He presents a mini-concert before the show, replete with his own songs, and plays delicious riffs between scenes.

Without Annette has a dynamic that is comparable to big band jazz,” he says. “A tight ensemble performs structured arrangements with room for improvised riffs.”

Says co-writer Doucette, “You could see this show many times, and since the casts change each week and there’s a lot of improv in it, you would never see the same show twice.”

I can’t think of a better way to spend your Thursday nights from now through October 2nd!

Without Annette will run on Thursdays at 8 p.m. through Oct. 2nd at the Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Call (323) 960-5773 or visit www.plays411.com for tickets.

Photo: The opening night cast of Without Annette
Photo by Michael Lamont

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