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EMBEDDED

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only Tim Robbins had let his imagination run a little wilder. Very little in his slightly fictionalized look at the invasion of Iraq and the prevaricators behind it is going to be new to his core audience. It's possible, I suppose, that somewhere in this great city a family will switch off Fox to get ready for an evening of occasionally didactic political theatre authored and directed by one of the right's favorite whipping boys, but I've as much faith in that as in a Florida election. It's certainly a handsome production as it sprawls over Richard Hoover's spacious, spare set. The ensemble—and this is nothing if not ensemble work—employs a variety of styles in the realization of the director's vision; thus we have the sort of sentiment usually associated with World War II in the soldiers' letters home juxtaposed with the commedia grotesquerie of the masked cabal that drives the whole sordid enterprise of warfare. The half-dozen masks, by the way, are elegant little works of art by costume designer Earhardt Steifel, and they lend much to the proceedings. If there is a unifying tone it is probably in the broad satire of the scenes in which the press corps subsumes itself to the needs of the military with which it so willingly serves. "I am a maggot journalist, sir!" the scribes declaim as they prepare to snuggle close to warrior glamour. These scenes, too, give us the one truly original character in the play, that of Col. Hardchannel (V.J. Foster), the ultra-butch drill instructor who has no problem looking to the musical theatre for comfort and guidance. Only the highest respect can be due a man who not only molds soldiers but who also once "sparkled as Anna in King & I." The rest of the cast operates seamlessly, as the actors ably slip from scene to scene, character to character, style to style. Gomorra stands in for the invaded nation, Babylon its capital, Jen-Jen Ryan for the soldier who becomes a propaganda icon, and so on through the familiar cast of characters, a device that gives the author ample wiggle room to make it clear it's not documentary. Leo Strauss may not be an overly familiar reference, but the program explains it nicely. The piece, at present, seems like something that will have more import 20 years down the road as an indication of where the left stands on these issues at this moment. As timely theatre, however, I'm afraid its literal quality serves only to reinforce audience perceptions. Stylized though it seems, the vaudeville of hidden faces jocularly promising to "lead the public to public support" underscores, but hardly skewers, reality, leaving Robbins preaching to an increasingly anxious choir. "Embedded," presented by and at the Actors' Gang, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Nov. 15-Indefinitely. $20. (323) 465-0566, x1

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