The word dupe can refer to a person who is deceived by others, or it can be a copy of a negative from which additional copies can be made, thus saving the original. Playwright Alex Austin has wound both these elements into a world premiere play inspired by a story about a Southern California model, Georgia Graves, who performed in Les Folies Bergère in the 1920s and was a key model in a famous Vogue spread by noted photographer George Hoyningen-Huene.
In Austin's story, Leonard Mist (Gerard Marzilli) is a photographer whose personal collection includes a seminal Hoyninger-Huene, valued in the millions of dollars, of the famous model, June Coffin (Danielle Van Beest). Obsessed with rock star Carol Fitch (Gina Yates), Mist comes upon Fitch in a coffeehouse and offers her a look at the print if she will come to his place. We are led to believe that she is in need of money, so greed impels her to follow him home. A simple story you might say, but Austin has enough serpentine plot deviations to complicate the narrative almost to the point of bewilderment.
As Mist's compulsion plays itself out, the story line has a parallel re-enactment of Coffin's fame and its aftermath, delivered as a story within a story. Van Beest does a credible job of creating the otherworldly model, though she is beautiful but strangely dispassionate throughout most of her role. Marzilli bravely battles through dual characterizations, but he has an uphill battle with Austin's many contrivances and plot gimmicks. Yates, possessed of a nervous manner throughout her performance, might be better served by director Bill Garrett if she were less edgy and could deliver her character with greater subtlety.
David Goldstein's colorfully articulated set enhanced with many photographs is an excellent backdrop for the story. Austin's ambitious undertaking is intriguing, but it suffers from a surfeit of telegraphed outcomes and psychological trails to follow that distract.
Presented by Jat Productions at the Two Roads Theatre, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 p.m. Jun. 27-Jul. 19. (866) 811-4111. www.theatermania.com.