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Brian Dykstra in That Damn Dykstra
Brian Dykstra is a talented guy. The writer/actor has penned works for stage and screens large and small, including work on the Emmy-winning television show The Life, and has acted on TV and in theater. And he's quite funny in That Damn Dykstra (the boxed set), playing now at the Access Theater in TriBeCa. Incorporating a few one-man bits of various political and poetical bents with sketches, one-acts, and skits involving five other players, the evening is a showcase that one suspects doesn't adequately capture the potential at hand. The whole is not as cohesive as we would like; there is little thematic unity to the evening, and so we merely take each piece as a separate unit, as we would a variety show.

This prevents the depth which is glimpsed in a few moments, particularly the closing solo piece, from coalescing into something larger and more meaningful. That's unfortunate, because there's so much entertainment to be had, and many tantalizing moments of provocation. Perhaps the most odd piece is the one that opens the play -- a hip-hop influenced poetic monologue about a mythical kingdom. Well-acted and interesting in concept, but a bit self-indulgent in execution, the piece gives way to several hilarious sketches, the first of which involves Patrick Frederic and Vickie Tanner in an exchange about an environmental issue that just keeps getting funnier. The ending goes for the obvious and chummy, but it's sharply delivered with a great Southern accent by Frederic, and nice righteous anger on Tanner's part.

The next piece, which features Dykstra and Matthew Boston, joined by Sarah Baker, starts very slowly and never picks up enough comic or dramatic steam, though it too has moments of satire that are inspired. Its targets are political correctness and interpersonal ineptness, but despite Baker's comically high intensity, it's a snapshot that's not terribly focused. The following bit, called Spreading the Word, and involving Ms. Baker, Ms. Tanner and Cynthia Babak, takes an overdone premise and makes good use of it, though it relies too much on the same tone from each actress when winding up.

Dykstra then takes a moment to directly address the audience, casually discussing his motives for putting on the show, and how easy it is to get a six-figure screenplay deal that amounts to an empty promise, and generally working the crowd well. But the full-length plays he's written, one of which is headed to Off-Broadway, start to seem like a better venue for his talents than this. On the other hand, comedy with this kind of intelligence and edge would be right at home on the sharper satiric cable shows. Fans of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart will be pleased.

A more directly political tone asserts itself thereafter in a piece about the Partnership for A Drug-Free America, in which we learn of the pharmaceutical and tobacco industries' monetary stake in determining which drugs are legal to ingest. Had the next sketch, about a broken elevator and executive privilege, been trimmed sufficiently, its Shavian social analysis presented in a Seinfeldian package might have kept the momentum going better.

When the show wraps up with a couple of short pieces, one of them impresses for its game take on the tired ten-minute play format, and the other with its return to the slam-poetry feel of the first bit, this time incorporating a harder edge, higher intent, and deeper bite. Given the nice production values of the show, including Maruti Evans' set and Margarett Perry's even-handed direction, we leave the theater happy but wanting something more indicative of what these talents can do.

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