VARIATIONS ON DEATH, Factory Theater, at the Athenaeum Theatre. Like sex, death has always been a potent source of comedy. So it's all the more surprising that a company with a stellar comedy track record like the Factory Theater should stumble so often and so humorlessly in this show tackling the subject of death.
Kevin Rich has penned 11 sketches, pretentiously termed "variations," about death and the afterlife, many of which start with promising if not always original premises. Sample: The first beings you encounter in heaven are a very tired doorman and a jaded, overworked clerk whose job it is to tell you your heavenly reward (in all cases sexual), then push you through the door. Every one of Rich's sketches overstays its welcome, however. And even those that feel only a little long are drained of comedy by Michael Mazzara's sloppy, unfocused direction and an uneven cast, some of whom telegraph punch lines or perform so blandly I wouldn't have known they were aiming for comedy if I hadn't been told.
There are a few good turns, however. Off-Loop veteran Allison Cain is always a pleasure, and I look forward to seeing relative newcomers like Mandy Schneider and Elizabeth Kelly--both of whom earn smiles in this otherwise grim evening--in other, better shows.