Comedy Tonight!

Three cracked vaudevillians try to rekindle the old laughs

The restaurants of Chinatown may boast delicacies such as salt-and-pepper frogs, crispy chicken feet, and durian milk shakes, but at nearby Walkerspace, a generous serving of ham is the only item on the menu. In Big Times, a trio of amiable dames gaily overplay a mishmash of comedy routines and songs. Accompanied by the ukulele strains of live band the Moonlighters, writer-performers Mia Barron, Maggie Lacey, and Danielle Skraastad present a shticky tribute to early-20th-century vaudeville.

In the opening segment, elderly artistes Nellie, Sadie, and Lucy reunite backstage for a performance. They prepare for their act, which combines quick-change numbers, dance sequences, and "who's on first" routines with the story of their origins. Nellie (a wisecracking orphan), Sadie (an addled usherette), and Lucy (a burlesque dancer on the lam) meet at a Midwestern variety show and hop a boxcar to the city. They accidentally catch the eye of a hotshot producer and set off for the "big time."

Barron, Lacey, and Skraastad certainly aren't aged, but they have rehearsed this show—conceived at NYU's Graduate Acting program—for six years. The long process has lent them substantial camaraderie and a cornucopia of wordplay and smart remarks. (They've also had time to perfect arched brows, puckered lips, googly eyes, and any number of other facial contortions.) If the hoofing and crooning are perfectly middling and the jokes generate as many groans as guffaws, the joy these women take in the performance and in each other is infectious. As the Moonlighters sing from above the stage: "Won't you put me in vaudeville/Let me show you my act/I can't sing, I can't dance/But I know it'll give 'em a thrill."

 
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