Back in February, I got promotional email from the Geffen about their theatrical adaptation of the popular book series Letter From a Nut. I immediately forwarded the message to Erik. Erik is basically my stand-in West LA dad. He's known me and made fun of me since I was born. He LOVES these books and has been trying to get me and everyone he knows to read them for years. So naturally, I knew I had to experience this production with Erik.
This is not your typical Geffen production. The author, under the pen name Ted L. Nancy, is a comedian more akin to standup culture than traditional theatre acting. However, his delivery and way of calmly encouraging and complimenting the audience was refreshing, as well as a testament to his excellent comedic timing. He's not trying to prove anything about his talent, just telling a story and I love that. Plus I love his voice. The seventy minute show consists of Thee Ted L. Nancy reading aloud his inquisitive yet astonishingly sincere letters written to companies, corporations and even diplomats, the more random, the better. In tandem, Beth Kennedy expertly responds to his inquiries as EACH of the many, diverse customer service representatives. She handles many wigs, many accents and many forms of reply with an amazing amount of energy and attitude. While this show may be a celebration of Ted L. Nancy's brilliant correspondence skills, it's also a challenging, hilarious character showcase for Beth. And she kills it.
With its slide-show style projections, quirky re-enactment video segments and the act of letter-writing itself, the style and format of the show might seem a bit dated. However, this only enhances the comedy. This is a show that belongs in the era of Office Space. And in a way this makes sense, since many of the letters were written in the late 90s/early 2000s. What's so amazing about Ted L. Nancy's process, and what kind of deems this a piece of documentary theatre is that he has a way of getting companies to actually reply to him. My personal favorite segment was when he wrote to a hotel manager in Amsterdam, inquiring on housing hamsters in his room for a theatrical production of "Hamsterdam" that he would be staging there. When the manager replied that those types of animals could not be housed in the hotel, Ted L. Nancy earnestly inquires again, asking if he can substitute with clams for a newly edited production of "Clamsterdam." I can see how my description might sound very dumb on paper, but I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe. There are all kinds of letters to look forward to, and the way he sells his ideas is really like no other.
Out in the lobby after the show, I apologized to comedian, Barry Marder, for potentially messing up the show with all of my crazy loud laughter. By his smile and humble attitude, it was clear that was quite the opposite; he was honored. And luckily for us, not only was Erik a huge fan of the writing, but an old college theatre buddy of Beth's from LMU! She told us that the rehearsal process for the show pretty much began with the compiling the letters into a theatrical format. I mean, how lucky for an actor to be a part of the script drafting process when you think you're just signing up to perform! We asked her if the show might continue on to New York or Chicago; we had enjoyed it so much that we could see it's honest, smart humor playing well with those audiences. Since Barry is not exactly a theatre actor by trade, they had never really expected the show to become as big as it had. But with Barry's close bud Jerry Seinfeld signed on as a producer, the name really helped the show take off, and rightfully so because the content is hysterical. It has potential to take off in other cities; but it's up to Barry and how far he wants to bring it.
Did this show make me want to change anything about myself? It makes me want to write more letters, but that's not really a new thing. That's' one of the main reasons I love this show so much: letters and mail are my jam. It makes me kind of want to test authority on this level, because yes, the customer is always right and we can probably get away with more than we think, maybe even making someone's day for even trying. But mostly, this show just gave me a good laugh, that I really needed. It did give me an idea for a potential fringe show regarding a incidental documentary comedy, but only time will tell.
Letters from a Nut runs at the Geffen Playhouse through July 30th. If you need to escape to some air conditioning and get a few good belly laughs this July, I would definitely recommend paying a visit to this hilarious show. Too much fun for a weekday night fo sho.