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Comedy: From Cho and The Rep

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An orchestra section full of Margaret Cho fans spent two hours doubled up in laughter at Robinson Center Music Hall Saturday night as the West Coast comedian lampooned homophobes, misogynists, the Christian right, George W. Bush and intolerance in general. Cho’s expressive face shaped by Korean genes, her long and slender-fingered hands that flitter like birds, broad vocalizations and perfect timing are the stuff of great comedians. Her dialogue — profane, fearless and largely directed at the gay community — delivers the unexpected and the improper to make political points. Dressed in an exotic sheer black gown trimmed and belted in gold, the energetic Cho stood and delivered for nearly two hours: The prisoners at Abu Ghraib were made to play “ass jenga.” “If you thinking [homosexuality] is contagious, you’re gay.” “If you’re against same sex marriage and laugh at ‘Will and Grace,’ f*** you.” She professed to admire the burkha Afghan women were made to wear, since they’d “hide a Big Gulp” and she could eat and drink all she wanted. Cho keeps her tour up to date, and launched into the weirdly personal way in which Osama bin Laden addressed the American public in his tape released last week, saying she wouldn’t have been surprised to hear him say “I can’t believe the Red Sox won.” In that same political vein, she jumped the Swift Boat Veterans for attacking John Kerry’s service in Vietnam while George W. Bush was “at Six Flags posing with his head through a cardboard cutout of the National Guard.” Kerry took a small hit, too, when Cho impersonated him as one of Tolkien’s talking trees (the punch line, of course, being “but wouldn’t you rather vote for a tree than a bush?”) The raw humor was some of the funniest, stuff that can only be suggested at here. Her take on the first lady “candidates” — that Teresa Kerry was sexy and Laura Bush probably tasted of Lysol — got a huge follow-up laugh when she teased that half of the men in the audience who were roaring at her joke had no idea what women tasted like anyway. Cho made important detours, in this political season so focused on war and the decline of the standard of living in the United States, into feminist issues, like congressional opposition to distribution of the morning-after pill and the scapegoating of Pvt. Lynndie England for evils devised by unprosecuted higher ups. But surely her greatest success was that a crowd filled with the target of the Christian right (“Shouldn’t you be preparing for the Rapture? You’re supposed to be leaving soon,” she pleads), surrounded by people of like minds, had a good two hours of belly laughs. — By Leslie Peacock Not enough laughs n We know that it’s possible to mix serious themes with humor, to laugh through our tears, all that. But for whatever reason, Catherine Butterfield’s “The Sleeper,” winner of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s Kaufman & Hart Prize for New American Comedy, just didn’t get us there. The play is the story of Gretchen (New Yorker Amy Tribbey, in her fourth Rep role), a high-strung Donna Reed type who’s developed a fixation on post-9/11 terrorism preparedness in the absence of anything else meaningful in her life. Her otherwise-occupied husband (Christopher Cass) has no interest in her sexually or emotionally. Her sister Vivien (Clarinda Ross) is a fun-loving, hard-drinking out-of-work actress whose life bears no resemblance to Gretchen’s cocooned existence. Matthew (Gino Anthony Pesi), the young, mysterious math tutor, becomes both Gretchen’s salvation and, unintentionally, her undoing. Maybe it’s the material, maybe it’s the delivery — we’re really not sure. But, as directed by Brad Mooy, there is too much in “The Sleeper” that was too genuinely serious, or at least played that way — Gretchen’s despair over her lifeless marriage and her growing suspicion that her new paramour is a terrorist — for the audience to feel comfortable when the mood suddenly shifts to the black, sometimes campy humor of Vivien’s. We did enjoy the actors’ performances — especially those of Ross and Pesi. (We laughed hardest during a scene where Matthew and Gretchen have their first discussion about whether rounding up Arab-Americans wholesale is the best way to fight terrorism.) But as a whole, there was a fatal inconsistency of tone, at least in the preview performance we saw. The play continues through Nov. 14. Showtimes are at 7 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $20-$28. — By Jennifer Barnett Reed

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