The only problem with much of the work of the four-man comedy ensemble known as Firesign Theatre is that one needs to have a four-channel mind to take in their frequently frenetic routines. Darlings of the counterculture in the late '60s and early '70s, Firesign designed and honed the art of participatory, group-identified and aural satiric comedy. It's an act best suited to radio and records, but the occasional live tour reinforces and validates audience identification.
Last night at the University of Maryland's sold-out Hoff Theater, Firesign (Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, David Ossman, and Phillip Proctor) walked down new paths in otherwise familiar terrain. Their show was somewhat blunted after eliminating most references to President Reagan, a normally friendly object of Firesign satire. But other points of reference remained intact -- the Dodge Compromise, the Mental Minority, Ben Bland and the All-Day Matinee (including the soap opera "Lawyer's Hospital"), Anytown, U.S.A., and Americann's favorite failed detective, Nick Danger. a
Because Firesign pokes fun at so many targets, it misses as often as it connects. It's a bit like hearing several old-time radio programs at once. The group doesn't always translate to the physical image of television or theater. But in its best moments, Firesign strikes a responsive chord, while encouraging a cosmic giggle. Happily those moments outweight the occasionally underdeveloped concepts.