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BLOCKAGE

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Arnie and Gavin have been Hollywood writing partners for years. They've sold screenplays to a few independent producers but never to a major studio. But they're heading toward a re-shuffling of their partnership and their very close friendship. The shuffler is a girl called Mandy, who works in a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop and is a "slam poet." Sound like a comedy? It certainly is, and one of the brightest, sharpest, and most insightful laugh riots to come along in quite a while. Its quality is reflected in its lack of punch lines; the biggest yuks come from ordinary phrases in ordinary conversation. Playwright Rick Bitzelberger has a marvelous ear for the silliness of the casual phrase and the humor that can be found in the most serious situations.

Gavin has had little to do with women for the past five years, considering himself the most un-seductive man in town. Arnie has been luckier but is more involved in his writing than in his libido. Suddenly Gavin meets Mandy, a confused young woman whose lifestyle is raunch magnified. She even admits—not to Gavin but to Arnie—that she's had sex with 47 men and 17 women in her young life. She inspires in Gavin a burst of successful creativity, which results in his first solo screenplay, which he neglects to tell Arnie he has sold to DreamWorks for $1 million. Emotions flare, situations bubble, anger explodes, and there is literally a laugh a minute throughout. Of course there are a couple of serious scenes, but the quality of the writing in them makes us forget we're not laughing.

The dramatic shape of the piece is flawless, as is the toning and polishing by director Jeff Hare, who further shapes each moment into a little gem. The reality and honesty of Hare's treatment is matched by the impeccable comedic performances of the four actors, none of whom even comes close to overplaying, which adds additional riches in humor and subtext. Charles Klausmeyer's Arnie is warm and very vulnerable till the later scenes, and Rob Kahn's Gavin is to the right degree aggressive and smiling until he is led into vulnerability by events. Sparkling and finely honed is Megahn Perry's Mandy, even more so as she recites her slam poems, especially one about her quick night with Arnie. The performance of Jeff Fischer as Lewis, a pizza delivery guy who deals in pot and has become a member of the group, provides the biggest laughs of the evening, stoned and obscure and totally wise as to the goings-on around him.

"Blockage," presented by Dan Hirsch and the Whitefire Theatre, in association with Fells Point Prods., at the Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Nov. 16-Dec. 15. $20. (818) 734-3085.

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