'Brady Bunch' on stage: definitely an acquired taste

THEATER

June 18, 1993|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

WASHINGTON — "The Real Live Brady Bunch"

Where: Kennedy Center, Washington

When: Mondays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Through July 17

Tickets: $19 and $24

Call: (800) 444-1324

Washington

I've been "Brady-ed."

I confess I missed most episodes of the early 1970s sitcom, "The Brady Bunch." But thanks to the legitimate stage -- specifically the stage of the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater -- I've made up for some lost time.

Theater critics frequently complain that plays are becoming too much like sitcoms. Now we have a genuine TV sitcom on stage. The result is hardly the best of both worlds.

Actual episodes from the "Brady's" golden days are performed verbatim by real-live actors (with a canned laugh track). Conceived by Jill and Faith Soloway, the production is called, appropriately, "The Real Live Brady Bunch." The episode I saw was "The Silver Platters."

Two things struck me as being on target. First, the show was originally produced by a Chicago company called Annoyance Theatre. Before the evening begins, beach balls are lobbed over the heads of the audience. Being hit with an inflated toy may be your idea of fun; I found it a teensy-weensy bit annoying.

Secondly, in this episode, the six Brady kids compete in a TV amateur hour hoping to win money for their parents' anniversary gift. The word "amateur" was never more fitting.

In "The Real Live Brady Bunch," children are played by adults in silly wigs and costumes. As little Bobby, Biff Rickard wears a bowl-shaped wig that looks like it belonged to Moe of "The Stooges," and Jim Tosney, who plays Greg, wears bushy black Groucho Marx eyebrows.

Then there's the silly performance style. Most of the lines are delivered facing front in an exaggeratedly wooden manner that suggests an elementary school play -- an effect reinforced by the cheesy set.

And yet, fairness bids me mention that on the night I attended, the audience -- most of whom appeared to be 20something -- not only had a groovy time, they seemed to recognize lines as well as gestures.

A half-hour sitcom hardly makes a full evening, so there's also a curtain raiser. In "The Real Live Game Show," audience members compete for such prizes as a week's supply of Yoohoo. The "Game Show" runs longer than the "Brady Bunch," and it's even more of an acquired taste.

In addition, at the end of the evening, actress Kathy Jensen, who plays Alice, the Bradys' housekeeper, sings a parody of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" that includes the modified lyrics: "One show makes you realize that your life never works out like 'The Brady Bunch.' " While she's belting this out, her fellow actors mime some Brady activities that never made it on the air, but did make a splash in the tabloids.

Heck, not just the tabloids. Last weekend the New York Times carried an item in which Barry Williams, the original Greg, admitted that he and Florence Henderson, who played Mrs. Brady, had been what you might call kissin' kin.

So the Brady phenomenon keeps on going. It's a phenomenon I can't begin to explain. As to the stage show -- which has already been a hit in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as Chicago -- it appears to be a cult phenomenon similar to "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

It probably helps if you're a Brady devotee. If, like me, you were caught napping during the original excitement, you may find "The Silver Platters" less than enlightening. Of course, you can always take in "Oh My Nose" next week or "Time To Change" two weeks later. Or you could just stay home, listen to an old Jefferson Airplane album and chug-a-lug some Yoohoo.

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