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'Luv' warps the mind a little

"Luv," the comedy now at the Plaza Theatre in Manalapan, isn't a many-splendored thing, but it's a pretty funny thing.

At least, it's funny in fits. And for that, we can thank the cast, adept at mining laughs out of the tiniest throwaway line or the most-oblique stage direction as they are. So what if the show conjures the Ghost of Variety Shows Past every once in a while? What comedy couldn't benefit from a little Sid Caesar or Carol Burnett?

Written by Murray Schisgal (co-writer of "Tootsie") and directed here with a wink and a nudge by Andy Rogow, the two-act show set in 1964 opens with Harry Berlin (wild-eyed Steven J. Carroll) about to jump off a Manhattan bridge. He is stopped by Milt Manville (a deliciously derailed Avi Hoffman), an old college friend who just happens to be walking by.

After a quick catch-up conversation, which devolves into a boasting contest on who had the worse childhood, the men realize that they have both been done in by love: Harry's life is empty without it, and Milt wants out of a marriage. But Harry hasn't any prospects, and Milt's wife, Ellen (a full-of-surprises Patti Gardner), won't give him a divorce, so the crafty Milt concocts a plan to unload his wife onto his pal so that everyone can live happily ever after. This may be a sucky plan, but for a plot, it isn't half bad.

It especially works as theater of the absurd, of which "Luv" shifts in and out of, seemingly willing to go where the best punch line is rather than spinning wheels mired in nihilism. In the hands of less-adroit actors, "Luv" would be a hot mess of a show. As it is, the laughs sputter out for a brief period in the middle, when the zaniness lags a little.

But with these three actors commanding the stage, "Luv" eventually finds an even keel.

"Luv" will play through Dec. 30 at the Plaza Theatre at 262 S. Ocean Blvd., in Manalapan. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. There are 2 p.m. matinees Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets cost $45 at 561-588-1820 or

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