Scary funny

Road to Nirvana

Road to Nirvana, 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday; $15-$17. The Actor’s Workshop of Sacramento at the Wilkerson Theatre in the R25 Complex, 1721 25th Street; (916) 583-4880; Through May 5.
Rated 3.0

It’s often been claimed that comedy is more difficult to pull off than drama.

There’s no denying that a hard-working cast can pull together a monumental project, rehearse until everything is made law in their brain, and still not get the true effect of the play.

The Actor’s Workshop of Sacramento’s latest endeavor, Road to Nirvana, directed by Mark Heckman, is a perfect example of this. The players know their marks, the lines are in their head ready to come out, but the comedic timing does not match any of the words.

The play, a comedy authored by Arthur Kopit, is an awesome amalgam of the susceptibility of man and the depths to which he will sink in the pursuit of power, money and, more specifically for this play, a Hollywood screenplay.

Al (Stuart Campbell) and Lou (Amber Marsh) bring back the ex-communicated film-producer Jerry (Eason Donner) to take on a warped, psychedelic version of Moby-Dick. However, if Jerry wants in, he’s going to have to prove it big-time.

Eason Donner stands out immediately as holding the humor in the production. Without that energy, the rest of the play doesn’t make the audience feel like they’re watching a comedy.

Every line is rife with the wrong kind of tension. The most notable example of this is Campbell’s Al, a character that is like a frenetic player in a Hunter S. Thompson short story. However, Campbell plays him cool, like a gangster Fonzarelli.

Comedy’s hard; there’s just no getting around it. But preview audiences are instrumental in helping actors understand the timing of jokes and the difference between a truly scary bit of theater and the absurd.