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Theater Review: Life Camp is Funny, Unfocused

By Justin Sondak in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 15, 2007 1:40PM

janice.jpgJanice Dutts Goes to Life Camp is a fun time. This late-night style comedy slotted in prime time is a goofy little show brimming with pop cuture goodness and, yes, campy humor, lovingly satirizing the self-help movement and its well-meaning psychobabble. Actually, it's funnier than it has any right to be.

The script by Laura McKenzie, who also plays Janice, hedges its bets between an affectionate tribute and a middle finger to a self-help industry more predatory than altruistic. She’s actually telling three stories: how life coach Regina drags Janice to PALS Life Camp; how Janice’s new PALS manipulate her through peppy cheers, dance routines, and dirty tricks; and how a mysterious woman helps Janice see the light. That third story is the weakest, largely told through monologues reinforcing what Janice is the last to grasp. The first story moves swiftly but relies on logical leaps we accept for the sake of comedy. We laughed hardest at the second story, in which life coach Regina and a trio of drama queens/counselors impart bad advice to a synthesized beat. This middle segment rides on funny-cause-it's-true moments like Regina's attempts to sound ‘street’ (shouting out to her ‘bee-yotches’), Brad and Krista’s twisted geek love and Troy’s practiced deadpan.

McKenzie the actress gives a winning, vulnerable performance as the straight-woman to Jennifer Pompa’s screamingly fun Regina and the dorky counselor trio. McKenzie the writer needs to tighten up the third act, where Janice is betrayed and gains the confidence to reject Regina's bad idea and find better pals. The redemption didn’t quite feel right, but it sure was funny.

Janice Dutts Goes to Life Camp, presented by Factory Theater, continues at Prop Thtr, 3502 N Elston Ave, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm through April 14. Tickets are $20. More information at