WINTER'S TALES, Griffin Theatre Company. Comedian Jonathan Winters's lightweight collection of short stories, Winters' Tales, isn't fall-out-of-your-chair funny. But most of the material is imbued with the same mischievous sadism that makes his comedy extraordinary. In one story Santa is threatened by a "hijacker doll." In another a senile train conductor punches the thumbs of his passengers.
This charming childlike quality is missing in Patrick Trettenero's stage adaptation of these stories, replaced by a cruelty that continually reminds us of comedy's dark roots without ever being funny. Part of the problem is Trettenero's adaptation. He robs several stories of their comic kick by supplying information up-front--tail feathers, for example, that indicate the speaker's a turkey--that Winters slyly withholds.
But most of the time it's Trettenero the director who mucks up the comedy, allowing his cast to emphasize the stories' dark side at the expense of their humor. Worse, he tolerates an I'm-not-fully-committed-to-this-material attitude, which unravels even the strongest bits in the show. A shocking number of lines were flubbed by the cast on the second weekend of the run.
The adept comic actors here--Pete Zahradnick, Kevin Farrell, Tom Kiehfuss--have all delighted audiences in the past by finding humor in the most mundane situations. This time they and Trettenero have turned comedy gold into dross.