Alvin (Bruce Vilanch) can’t control his gag reflex: One-liners are his one line of defense against a world that is shunting him aside. For decades, he was a successful comedy writer for series television; now divorced and over 50, he is reduced to begging for work from the witchy TV exec (a sharp Amy Wilson) behind such fare as Hip-Hop Hospital. When an earthquake hits Los Angeles, Alvin gets buried to the neck in a heap of showbiz wreckage—a metaphor for life in the Hollywood discard pile, perhaps, by way of Beckett’s Happy Days. As he waits to be rescued, he fruitlessly seeks assistance from his superannuated agent (longtime character actor Jerry Adler, delectably lethargic), and is visited by various figures from his past. Playwright Mike Reiss won four Emmys for his work on early seasons of The Simpsons, and also co-created The Critic; he is a master of quick, cartoonish jokes—many of them very funny—which his script hurls out like a tennis-ball machine. More than a few go astray, but Hollywood Squares alum Vilanch (warm, likably shambling and somewhat jokily cast as a straight Irish Catholic) connects with most of them. Ace comic writers of a certain age themselves, Reiss and Vilanch have a vested frustration in Alvin’s plight, and bring an insider’s bite to some of the humor. Ultimately, trapped though its hero may be, Rubble is a testament to the ongoing appeal of old-fashioned comedic escapism.—Adam Feldman
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