Profiles Performance Ensemble, at Red Bones Theatre.

These are perfectly serviceable premises for comedy: Abraham Lincoln has second thoughts about a flippant remark he made at a press conference. Count Dracula, fooled by an eclipse, ventures out in the daytime. Socrates gets cold feet on the eve of his execution. And a sly businessman challenges Death to a fatal game of gin rummy.

But Woody Allen develops these premises as if he were a neophyte improviser tackling audience suggestions, wasting their potential on facile, parochial shtick dating back to Sid Caesar--if not to Julius and Augustus themselves. The actors also communicate the quality of making it up as they go along, reciting their speeches loudly and enthusiastically but with no attention to timing, character, or movement beyond that required by the script. The punch line of the Dracula sketch, for example, demands that the count be caught hiding in a closet, so a closet is provided and he hides in it--but besides this, he and the others might as well be sitting in a row reading their lines.

The key to Allen's humor is characterization--in contrast to, say, Neil Simon, whose lines are funny in themselves. But there's so little characterization here one wonders what director Chris Nicholson did to justify a program credit. One also wonders why the Profiles Performance Ensemble (producers of the delightful Zara Spook and Other Lures, also playing at Red Bones Theatre) permitted this classroom exercise to go up in front of an audience.

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