Improv Lab Theatre | 8162 Melrose Ave., L.A. | Extended through Dec. 15 | Tickets $20 | bethlapides.com
Like a smarter, more sarcastic present-day Anna Leonowens, comedian Beth Lapides teaches us how to metaphorically whistle a happy tune in the face of an unforgiving economy and an increasingly shrill political climate in this charming, intelligent and offbeat 75-minute mélange of comedy, philosophy and song running Wednesday nights at the intimate black box space adjacent to the Improv.
Lapides, creator and longtime host of Un-Cabaret, is a comedian at heart and brings a mischievous, subversive sense of fun to her ruminations on life, fate and how much we control our own destiny. The solo show was inspired by a series of life events—most dramatically an eviction from a longtime Hollywood home—that made Lapides and her husband question everything about the way their lives were constructed. She eventually concludes that, while it’s impossible to be happy 100 percent of the time, it is possible to be 100% Happy 88% of the Time.
The highly personal journey of crisis, doubt and discovery is embellished by video projections, often hilarious PowerPoint-style illustrations and original songs written by Lapides and Mitch Kaplan (who accompanies on keyboard). While Lapides makes no claims to being an accomplished singer, her limited range works best when she fully commits. One expects that the occasional tentativeness in her singing will disappear as she gets more familiar with the new material. Kaplan is an assured and assuring presence, obviously at ease gently guiding leading ladies after years honed as musical director for such artists as Ana Gasteyer and Sandra Bernhard (diehard Will & Grace fans will recognize him as Sandra’s accompanist when she performs “Midnight Train to Georgia” with Will and Grace). Not all the songs are gems, but many of them add a dash of humor and absurdity, and when else will you hear an entire tune devoted to the pineal gland?
When she’s not singing (which, it should be said, is most of the time), Lapides is an appealing, quirky comic presence, pouring out observations on relationships, ambition, communication and the difficulties of change with honesty and a stealthy intelligence.
The show is directed with style by Clifford Bell, with the seemingly disparate parts eventually cohering into a surprisingly powerful whole, leaving audience members feeling uplifted as they head out into the Hollywood night—well, at least 88 percent of the time.