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COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA, or SHEBA VALLEY PORN EDITION

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Critics in 1950 hailed William Inge's play as groundbreaking in its depiction of alcoholism. But, as with many "firsts," the piece has in five decades become so outdated that it's rarely performed. That makes it perfect fodder for director Danny Schmitz, who has a penchant for taking aging classics and not altering the script but comically skewering it beyond recognition through his actors' actions and tones. Here, with help from an exuberant and skilled cast, he has exploded the story's somewhat subtle sexual oppression by making all the characters appear as if they are in an X-rated movie, and he has acutely added a layer of bored cynicism. Because Schmitz insists on using the entire script, the production is kept from being a complete success. But it is an intelligent, if raunchy, send-up.

The story, on its surface, remains the same, except the title and the location, which has been changed to California's San Fernando Valley. Doc (Wayne Wilderson), whose medical career was ruined by alcoholism, is now a year sober after joining Alcoholics Anonymous. His wife, Marie (Anne von Herrmann), a lonely housewife, has nothing to do all day but pine wistfully for her missing dog. Lola (Andrea Hutchman), their college-student boarder, has an amorous boyfriend named Turk (John Altieri). That makes Doc, who is attracted to Lola, jealous.

But, in Schmitz's version, Marie and Lola are constantly making out. Marie rips the clothes off the mailman. The milkman, played by senior citizen Tom Carey, licks whipped cream off Marie's shoulder. And the house is filled with nudie magazines, as well as cocaine, which everyone but Doc snorts constantly.

Though this is broad comedy, the actors need to be exacting in their movements and delivery for it to work. Everyone does a fine job, Wilderson and von Herrmann in particular. Wilderson is on-target as a man unable to hide his contempt for his wife, his lust for Lola, and his never-ending desire to drink. And von Herrmann's wistful sighs for her dog Sheba and her fluctuations between hysterics and boredom are hilarious. The running time of about two hours is too long for camp, and the action drags in the middle of the first act. But the comic gems delivered by this cast far outweigh the slow points.

"Come Back Little Sheba, or Sheba Valley Porn Edition," presented by Buzzworks Theater Company at the Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m. Feb. 19-April 9. $20. (323) 665-4917.

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