Victor Hugo's Les Miserables performed as a French farce by three men, replete with bad drag and cheesy accents, probably either strikes audience members as sacrilegious, pointless or totally brilliant. For those who fall into the last category (and I'm among them), "The Literati" is lots of fun - never less than amusing, and occasionally hysterical.
The premise is simple, yet fiendishly difficult: three actors have memorized comic versions of 25 great works of literature. Each night, audience members roll a gigantic die and one work from each of five categories is performed. It's a remarkable feat, and makes it possible that the performance I attended will have almost nothing in common with the one future audience members see.
The show is more than just a series of literary parodies — each performer has a character (with the same first name): Derek Jarvis is the pretentious twit, Ned Record is the sarcastic everyman, and Nick Freed is the cheerful idiot. As the three blunder their way through the show, they skirt the line between improvised and scripted — it always feels like they're making it up, and a lot of the time they probably are. That freewheeling tension sustains the show through the lesser moments. Because there are jokes that don't land, moments that are either too long or rushed, and sections that are merely cute enough instead of hysterical. But the show's ragged and unpretentious aesthetic works in its favor: this isn't a slick spectacle, with every line tested and perfected. It's a bunch of very clever people being extremely silly to amuse themselves and the audience, playing off each other and threatening to fall apart at any moment. But when it's performed with this much delight and comic skill, it's easy to just let go and laugh.