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Theater Review: A Clean Brush

Mandy Fason and Michael Kerr. in A Clean Brush. Photo by Eric Keitel.


Remember the era when comedy consisted of Polish, Italian and Jewish jokes? When comedians like Henny Youngman and Norm Crosby specialized in puns and malaprops? Well, A Clean Brush, by Norm Foster, brings it all back at Theatre Forty, in a contemporary timeframe. It’s simultaneously old and new.

Two housepainters, Mello Boggs (Michael Kerr) and Dick Stern (James Lemire) get a job fixing up the basement of a house owned by Zoe Caldwell–not the late Australian actress, but an attractive widow played by Mandy Fason. Zoe’s husband has just died, of a head injury sustained in this very basement, apparently when he had a heart attack and fell (repeatedly) on a fireplace poker.

The bulk of the play consists of banter between the two painters, whose names are fodder for plenty of gags about hippie parents (Mello) and dicks (Dick). They discuss the demise of a housepainting peer, whose cremated ashes were mixed into deck paint. They discuss the new era of political correctness, as Mello schools Dick on inclusion, to no avail. And, after Mello sleeps with Zoe, they talk a lot about sex.


Mandy Fason and James A Clean Brush. Photo by Eric Keitel.


Zoe’s sister Lois Cunningham (Susan Priver) lives next door and pops in to cast suspicion on Zoe. Isn’t it suspicious that Zoe tore up the carpeting after the “accident”? Well, sure, as are the multiple head injuries for a heart attack death and the fact that the police asked no questions and left the andirons in the basement.

The murder mystery doesn’t completely hang together and the show is over-long, but the cast gives it their all and there are numerous laughs. It especially comes alive when the women join the ever-present men onstage.

This is the sixth play by Foster produced at Theatre Forty, who bills the playwright as “the Neil Simon of Canada.” Howard Storm directs, on a sparse set that is mostly open space. Extensive ‘70s-era music plays before and during the play; Mello and Dick discuss Bob Seger during their meandering conversations.


A Clean Brush runs through Oct. 23 at Theatre 40, on the Beverly Hills High School campus. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm. Tickets are $35.


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Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Theatre West.

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