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Roles and Rules of Comedy

Six short, skit-like plays by Harold Dean James study contemporary New Yorkers arguing, flirting and making friends.

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Donna Kennedy, Sharon Fogarty and Fitzy Fitz in a scene from “At the Bus Stop Part 5,” part of Harold Dean James’ “Roles and Rules of Comedy” at The Players (Photo credit: Jonathan Slaff)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

Roles and Rules of Comedy, six short comedic bits of fluff written and directed by Harold Dean James is a character-driven view of contemporary New York City.  Presented at the elegant Players Club on Gramercy Park by We Three Productions, James deals mostly with down-to-earth people like Donna (Donna Kennedy) and Jaymie (Sharon Fogarty) who meet at a bus stop awaiting a ride that never seems to arrive in “At the Bus Stop Part 5.”

Donna appears at first to be uptight and Jaymie foulmouthed and sex obsessed.  Donna is upset with Jaymie’s talk of penis sizes and loose relationships, but she finally wins over Donna whose sense of humor is tickled. The appearance of a bus driver (Fitzy Fitz) causes some funny consequences including the use of a clown mask to mark a budding friendship. The two actresses play against each other with just enough friction to make their encounter realistic.

Jesse N. Holmes and Paul Albe in a scene from “The Last Laugh,” part of Harold Dean James’ “Roles and Rules of Comedy” at The Players (Photo credit: Jonathan Slaff)

The ironically titled “The Last Laugh” brings John (Paul Albe) and Harry (Jesse N. Holmes) together for a final reckoning over who stole whose wife.  The twist:  One or both are dead!  Albe’s portrait of a man who prefers to shout rather than whisper works well against the elegant Holmes.

Each playlet has a twist.  The minimalist painting observed and pretentiously criticized by several couples in “Downtown Museum” is the punchline of a joke perpetrated on the museum’s guests by its staff played by a cool Fitzy Fitz, as well as a different performer at each performance.

“The Interview” pits the Woman (a ditzy Fogarty) against the Man (Fitzy Fitz) who is aghast at her rather bizarre office behavior.

The final sketch returns us to that bus stop but not as successfully as its first appearance.

Fitzy Fitz and Donna Kennedy in a scene from “Matters of the Heart,” part of Harold Dean James’ “Roles and Rules of Comedy” at The Players (Photo credit: Jonathan Slaff)

The best of the six short works is “Matters of the Heart.”  Set in a small revival movie theater, the two characters, Woman (Kennedy) and Man (Fitzy Fitz) come into contact when the theater is about to close.  He does everything he can to avoid the world outside the theater, much to the irritation of the Woman who runs the theater for her manager boss.  They open up to each other, revealing deep secrets that bind them together as they sit and begin to watch a special, personal showing of the film.

Roles and Rules of Comedy boils down to six skits built up by personable actors who, according to the program notes, began creating them through improvisations which James fashioned into reasonably stageworthy bits.

Sharon Fogarty and Jesse N. Holmes a scene from “Downtown Museum,” part of Harold Dean James’ “Roles and Rules of Comedy” at The Players (Photo credit: Jonathan Slaff)

The simple costumes, helped by a few ludicrous wigs, are by Ramona Ponce who knows these New Yorkers intimately.  The scenery was improvised using chairs and an occasional table.

The title of the show is a bit mischievous, lending an air of erudition to the plays which they don’t deliver.

Roles and Rules of Comedy (September 3, 4, 10 & 11, 2021)

The Players, 16 Gramercy Park South, in Manhattan

We Three Productions

For tickets, visit http://www.tinyurl.com/wwy7j99f

Running time: 80 minutes including an intermission

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Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (400 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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