2005_10_arts_ashley2.jpgEvery Sunday Gothamist publishes theater reviews by our contributor Mallory Jensen. The opinions below belong entirely to the author.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this new play by Roger Rosenblatt, since all the press releases and listings about it seemed so determinedly vague. Now that I’ve seen it, I realize that this is because the play itself is not really a play as much as it is a variety of skits run together around a sort of theme. This doesn’t work entirely, because not all the skits were created equal and the uniting theme often falls from sight, but if you enjoy sketch comedy that has a bit of a bite to it, you’ll probably like it quite a bit anyway.

The first part of the title comes from a 1991 Sports Illustrated cover that is projected off and on at the back of the theater (concealing Christopher Lipton, the conga player whose percussive contribution is yet another slightly wacky element to the show), a shot of, yes, swimsuit-clad Ashley Montana, which somehow serves as the jumping-off point for the four actors to meditate on the question in the second part of the title. From there, they sound off together and individually on everything from getting fired to John Ashcroft to healthcare to polar bears (sort of). Several scenes revolve, Daily Show-style, around bad journalism, a topic naturally important to Rosenblatt, who writes for Time and NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, among other outlets. Some of the skits are quite funny, some are rather depressing, and many are both, though a few are either totally obscure or already done too many times. Rosenblatt’s frustration with aspects of life, particularly its 21st century form but also just a general sense of how hard it is to feel you’re living meaningfully, comes through clearly, perhaps most in the skits with Jeffrey DeMunn, many of whose characters seem to be bewildered and/or bitter older men. Bebe Neuwirth is the member of the cast who’s gotten the most attention in the press, and she is excellent in her various roles, as is James Waterston, who takes on the thankless parts of disgraced former FEMA director Michael Brown and Death. Going by my impression and others’ overheard comments, though, Jenn Harris really steals the show; her final bit alone is almost worth the price of admission. With those performances and Rosenblatt’s excellent writing, I didn’t care so much that the show wasn’t seamless; it’s frequently both thoughtful and entertaining, and that counts for a lot in our book.

Details: Ashley Montana… is at The Flea, 41 White St., until Nov. 17, Wed.-Sat. 7pm, Sat. also 3pm. Tickets are here.