Playwright: Jon Barinhotz, Jennifer estlin and Jamie hoggson At: Annoyance Theatre, 4830 n. Broadway Phone: 773-561-4665; $10 Runs through: Sept. 25. Photo courtesy of annoyance Productions
Tommy's Place, a new comedy at the Annoyance Theatre, probably won't win any awards for its plotting. The setup is rushed and the conclusion leaves you hanging: Was there really a cataclysmic disaster, or was it all just a door malfunction? Yet the plot isn't the reason for a recommended visit to Tommy's Place. Go instead for the dialogue and performances whipped up by its entertaining actor-writers. You'll be hard-pressed not to laugh.
Tommy's Place bears the distinction of being the first full-length production that originated as a short play in the Annoyance's new director showcase titled Triple Feature ( it debuts three new 20-minute plays every two weeks ) . Director Scott Goldstein oversees this show that bears all the hallmarks of a series of improv sessions that have been padded out and crisply preserved. Some situations are better than others, but over all it's plenty of fun.
Set in Hoboken, N.J., Tommy's Place handily wins its laughs from the stupidity, malapropisms and all-out quirks of its three characters from the tri-state area.
One fateful evening, neighborhood housing advocate Karen Goran ( Jennifer Estlin ) and surly pizza delivery man Jake Fuzo ( Jon Barinholtz ) barge into the home of not-so-bright dock worker Tommy Toscani ( Jamie Hoggson ) , who lives in his family's out-of-the-way bomb shelter. Sooner than you can say Panic Room, the three get trapped inside for 15 days.
As the characters resign themselves to their awkward confinement, we get to learn more about the unhappy love life of Karen and of Jake's obsession with collecting celebrity autographs. But the strange traits of these two pale in comparison to Tommy, who aspires to be like comic strip cat Garfield, hoards his Pop Secret microwave popcorn and is a connoisseur of Disaronno. ( Any class associated with the liqueur gets tossed once you hear how Hoggson mispronounces it. )
As performers, Estlin and Barinholtz are solid with the comedy and surprisingly bring pathos to their dejected characters. And though the hints of romance are played for laughs, it feels genuine.
Hoggson is a bit shakier. He would steal the show with his overdeveloped juvenile Tommy if not for his frequent tendency to break character and get the giggles ( even though it's clear he's fighting it with all his might ) .
Don't go to Tommy's Place if you're expecting great play writing or an overarching message. But do go if you're in the mood to laugh at the stupidity and quirks of others. On this level, Tommy's talented writer-actors certainly deliver.