Playwright: Trevor Griffiths
directed by: Ted Lambert

performance schedule:
April 26 - May 13, 2001
The Club
Thursday - Saturday at 10:00 pm
Sunday 5:30 pm

"Comedians" by Trevor Griffiths, a noted play of the 1975-76 Broadway season, will be staged April 26 to May 13 by Ted Lambert in The Club at La MaMa E.T.C. The well-known but now seldom-produced drama is set in a Manchester, England, where a group of ordinary men are taking a night school course in standup comedy. On the evening of the final class, the students prepare to appear at a local workingman’s club and an influential talent agent has promised to attend. Turning pro promises an escape from working-class drudgery, but little in the evening goes as planned. Before the night is over, there are bitter final lessons for both students and their teacher. While touching on the social and political issues in the industrial north of England in the period, the play also focuses on how different approaches to comedy can either embrace truth and what unites us, or make us laugh at others' pain and misfortune.

Because a sizable portion of “Comedians” is set in a nightclub, The Club, La MaMa’s cabaret theater, was a natural choice for this production. “Performing it in a real nightclub has set the tone for the entire production. It’s a more environmental take on the play” says director Ted Lambert, “more intimate and more involving.” Lambert will use the original text, not the Broadway version. He explains, “Trevor Griffiths is very pleased that we are using this version. It is, he feels, the play he wrote, and had objected to cuts made to the Broadway production.”

Lambert has assembled a cast comprised entirely of foreign actors, including English, Irish, Australian and Indian born performers. Authentic accents were the main reason behind this choice. He insists, “This play takes place at a very specific time and place. I felt the accents were a great distraction for the American actors, and they missed most of the cultural references.”

Lambert is a La MaMa veteran who, during the year of the play's Broadway run, was appearing as a child actor in "The Trojan Women" (directed by Andrei Serban and composed by Elizabeth Swados) in NY, Europe and the Mid-East. Lambert returned to "The Trojan Women," with other members of the original cast, in La MaMa's 35th Anniversary revival in 1996. The same year, in The Club at La MaMa, he directed a revival of the 1972 play "Sleep" by Jack Gelber. Accused of being a '70s fetishist, he answers: “I was just a kid then, but to me it was a vibrant time with lots of innovation. Of course there was disco, but you’ve also got Bowie, Punk, Funk and Americans hitting golf balls on the moon. There’s a tremendous culture clash and it’s all a bit surreal.” He adds, “I’ve always loved this play. It’s a very serious play about the nature of comedy. It’s also a great character piece about working class men who want to transform their lives. I think it’s definitely an underappreciated gem.”

A self-described insomniac, Ted Lambert is also a screenwriter and was managing director of "Scenario, the Magazine of Screenwriting Art." His writings include the dramatic television series "Magic," produced in England for NDR Television, Germany. Among his screenplays are "Faith Hope and Charity," an adaptation of Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard," a children's film titled "Small Businessman" and a romantic comedy, "The Eternal Flame."

Australian born actor Shawn Corbett plays Gethin Price, an angry young student in the class, a role which catapulted actor Jonathan Pryce into stardom and won him several major awards on both sides of the pond, including a 1977 Tony award for Best Featured Actor in a play. The role of the teacher Eddie Waters, a talented old comedian who once nearly made it to the top, is played by English-born George Taylor. The role was first played in England by comic Jimmy Jewel and later portrayed on Broadway by Milo O’Shea. The current cast also includes: Stephen Donovan (Birmingham, England), Christopher Flavell (England), Tim Gilmore (Ireland), Martin Hillier (London), John O’Callaghan (Ireland), Mark Cameron Pow (Lincolnshire, England), Debargo Sanyal (India) and Felix van Dyk (England, Canada-Holland).

Set Design is by Dawn Petrlik. Lighting Design is by Ken Tabachnick. Costume design is by Katie Gilmartin.

by Elyse Sommer
based on 4/29 performance

It's not the jokes. . .it's what lies behind them. A joke that feeds on ignorance starves its audience. We have the choice. We can say something or we can say nothing. Not everything true is funny, and not everything funny is true. Most comics feed prejudice and fear and blinkered vision, but the best ones illuminate them, make them clearer to see, easier to deal with.
--Eddie Waters

"The Comedians, a twenty-five year young play by British playwright Trevor Griffiths (not to be confused with the Graham Greene novel and film!) is being given an interesting production by La MaMA E.T.C. Griffiths's drama about a group of Manchester working men seeking a way out of their go-nowhere lives through a night school course fit into the angry young men school of drama. The play's first and third act unfolds in the rather dreary classroom where Eddie Waters (George Taylor) teaches not just the techniques but the philosophy of comedy. The middle act has the men performing their acts in a local workingman's club, with an influential talent agent their teacher has invited present to critique and, hopefully, give them their big chance to become professionals. It is the club location of the middle act that prompted director Ted Lambert to use Le MaMa's cabaret space. The setting as well as the restoration of cuts made (to Griffiths' dismay) to the 1975-76 Broadway production which made Jonathan Pryce a star.

The staging is strictly bare bones, but the play resonates strongly thanks to a strong cast comprised entirely of foreign actors (English, Irish and Indian) and its double-edged theme. The dominant theme is an exposé of the drudgery and yearning hopefulness (and hopelessness) of men at the bottom of the social heap. The secondary theme is on the different approaches to comedy as a means for embracing truths that can either unite or make us laugh at others' pain.

The ten members of the all-male cast are all excellent. The Irish actor Shawn Corbett, particularly strong as Gethin Price (the part that won Jonathan Pryce a Tony), the angry young comedian who refuses to cave in to the demands of the entertainment market. Christopher Flavell as the agent has a tour-de-force scene when he evaluates the performances he has just seen. The play sags a bit during performance segment -- except for Corett's brilliant but noncommercial final act. All told, however, and despite a strictly bare bones production, this revival makes for an absorbing, thought-provoking two hours."

2001 page