The Jungle Fun Room
nytheatre.com review by Josh Sherman
August 15, 2009
If you've ever wondered what it's like behind the scenes before a children's birthday party at the New York City Zoo, the FringeNYC Festival has you covered in the form of the hilarious premiere of Brian Hampton's fluffy comedy, The Jungle Fun Room. In this lighthearted send-up of aspiring actors and their unusual day jobs, writer/performer Hampton and director Sam Zalutsky skillfully use a plausible scenario to wring major laughs out of a game cast that will send you laughing your way out of the Actors Playhouse.
Hampton plays the lead role of Screg (short for Scott Greg), the managerial leader of the wannabe actors clubhouse gang; he reminded me (in a good way!) of Jack Tripper from the classic '70s sitcom Three's Company. Spunky Eve, delightfully acted by Kim Goldfeder, similarly brought to mind Janet Wood as the can-do go-getter who is happy to have a job that involves performing as a tortoise. There is the resident diva Shelley—who makes it crystal clear that she auditioned for the role of Safari Director—brilliantly portrayed by the multi-talented Carter Calvert. Shelley is still shooting for her big Broadway break, but that may be derailed by the entrance of Trevor (a goofy and fun Trey Mitchell), the new guy who is a triple threat in theatre and upstages Shelley at all turns.
The mayhem in The Jungle Fun Room is set into motion by the arrival of two-time Oscar winner and super-celebrity Hillary Parker (a lovely Beverly Laucher) with her six-year-old in tow for her birthday party. It takes approximately 0.2 seconds for Shelley to launch into a full-scale audition, while Trevor, who is in his first day on the job, tries to keep all the tykes entertained. Eve wrangles the kids and Hillary to the best of her ability, while Screg tries to reconcile his tangled past with Hillary, and wonders what's truly become of his original acting ambitions.
What makes The Jungle Fun Room such a great time to watch is the organic fun that is had by the cast working with a tight script. Zalutsky keeps the pace quick (perfect for FringeNYC) and lets Hampton's zingers do the work for him. And because the play is peppered with great opportunities for situational comedy, the performers are constantly in motion with the grace of skilled professionals in a classic Feydeau farce. Each character gets enough of an arc for the audience to care about what happens to them, and yet the show refuses to wallow in seriousness for too long before another joke pops up. There is a simple ensemble feel to the comedy—even though both Calvert and Goldfeder deliver standout individual performances, they never overshadow the rest of The Jungle Fun Room. Kudos to a great cast, script and directing team—you can't avoid having fun at this show!