What's that line about tragedy being the flip side of comedy? Actually, there's more bittersweet pathos than tragic darkness in the Little Lake Theatre Company production of Bunny Bunny. The subtitle pretty much tells it all: "Gilda Radner: A Sort of Romantic Comedy."
The 1997 play is adapted from Alan Zweibel's memoir about his long-time friendship and professional partnership with the late comedienne. It episodically traces their relationship from the beginnings of Saturday Night Live, in 1975, to Radner's death from ovarian cancer, in 1989. Many playgoers will be familiar with much of the story, and already sympathetic to Radner as a good-girl star. The insecurities, the eating disorder, the tangled relationships -- these don't come as much of a surprise to anyone who survived the 1970s, and they serve to underline rather than detract from Radner's appeal.
The Little Lake cast, directed by Jena Oberg, is well suited to this solid, straightforward play about comedy, love and death. The minimal set provides just enough props for the cast to explore and develop their characters without distracting from the flying witticisms. There are enough laughs to go around (even when the audience misses some of the jokes) and the expected, but comfortingly cathartic, three-hankie ending.
As Radner, Sara Barbisch earns chuckles in her own right re-creating some of Radner's most famous bits, most memorably "Let's Sing Dirty to the Animals," a song from the 1980 one-woman Broadway show, Gilda Live. Oddly, though, Barbisch more resembles -- and brings to mind -- Laraine Newman, another of the original Not Ready for Prime-Time Players. She also projects a strength that is so at odds with Radner's fragility and impishness.
As the play's narrator and other central character, Mark A. Calla is a cheerful nebbish whose own growth tracks seamlessly with the more mercurial Radner's. David Saint-Jacques completes the cast as everybody else: more than two dozen characters, from delightfully supercilious waiters to a rather dubiously rendered Andy Warhol.
During the show's run, Little Lake is also plugging and raising money for the local chapter of Gilda's Club (412-338-1919, www.gildasclubwesternpa.org), a network of support organizations for people dealing with cancer of any sort, and the cause celebre of the original Bunny Bunny. This is not to say the play is a downer: If you're already smitten with Radner, Bunny Bunny will be warm and snuggly, filled with more chuckles than tears.
Bunny Bunny continues through June 9. Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive (off Route 19), Canonsburg. 724-745-6300 or www.littlelake.org