Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Al's Business Cards (Theatre Row)

Al's Business Cards
At Play Productions
August 6, 2009
Josh Koenigsberg (writer)
Laura Keating (director)

It's not easy to write a good comedy, so I'm willing to forgive the length of Al's Business Cards (55 minutes). Writer Josh Koenigsberg has the mechanics of humor down, spinning a smart plot from a simple situation. He riffs on a gag from Seinfeld—half-Indian Al Gurvis is mistaken for Hispanic, while Eileen Lee, despite her name, isn't Asian at all—but where Jerry and the gang took aim at America's boorish behavior, Koenigsberg draws out deeper issues.

In its short runtime, ABC touches on cultural identity, immigration, home ownership, divorce and addiction. By rooting the story in the cultural moment (and not just thru pop references), Koenigsberg increases our stake in Al. It helps, of course, that Azhar Khan is so affable as Al, a schlub who makes one dumb remark for every two smart ones and is self-aware enough to aspire to more.

At heart, ABC is an unlucky comic romance. Al meets Eileen, a real estate broker, after their local NJ printer has mixed up (and misprinted) their business cards; he mistakes her flirtatious hustle for romantic interest and gets drawn into her disastrous love life. As Eileen, Lauren Hines plays well with Khan and rattles off her banter with flair. Director Lauren Keating keeps the momentum up, even when scenes drag and supporting actors flag, and gets mileage out of an obviously tight budget. In its too-short hour, Al's Business Cards may be about as substantial as a sitcom, but it's an honestly funny sitcom.


Al's Business Cards plays at Theatre Row (410 W. 42nd Street) until August 22. Tickets?

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