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HIGHER GROUND

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Oh, the frustration of potential. These three vignettes, written by John Cothran Jr. and directed by Chris Anthony, introduce us to seven characters caught in brief but climactic moments. Each character is someone we'd like to know much better. Each is in a situation we're eager to know more about.

The three scenes take place in a city park, centered on a small mound that everyone there refers to as the "high ground." The three stories are also linked by the commentary of The Groundskeeper (Michael Teigen), who watches over each scene while also providing subtle sound effects. But the lesson of the collected stories seems not to have been made clear enough, even for those of us who like to piece together theatrical puzzles. Could it be love the one you're with? War is hell?

In the first piece, Cothran plays a Vietnam vet opposite Alysan Marie as a manic, flag-waving, seemingly drug-addled young woman. His story is nothing out of the ordinary, but hers seems full of possibilities. The two characters come to some sort of shared understanding as they dance over the mounded area. Unfortunately, Marie is called upon to behave strangely and wildly, and she seems to be fighting a pierced tongue to articulate her dialogue.

Next, Walter Addison is the Caucasian husband to Juanita Jennings' African-American wife. The sliver of what we see onstage reflects a healthy, long-term marriage as the couple comes to the high ground for a picnic. Addison is memorable for his unique take on the character, not particularly fully written, of an older loving husband. Jennings, whose character falls ill onstage, does true, detailed, and convincing work.

In the final scene, Jed Grant is also a Vietnam vet, who sets up camp on the high ground. Bruce Beatty plays a cheery police officer trying to talk him out of using a decrepit metal sword, but results are predictably tragic.

One of these scenes expanded would probably make a more informative and absorbing work; all of them expanded from the show's current one-hour running time might indeed take us to a better place.

"Higher Ground," presented by the Actors' Gang at the Actors' Gang El Centro Space, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m. Apr. 2-Apr. 24. $10. (323) 465-0566, ext. 15.

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