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LA Theater Review

Fornicationally Challenged

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Having sex--and being able to really enjoy it--may not seem daunting for the generation raised in the era of AIDS, safe sex, and preintercourse discussion and disclosure. But for baby boomers such as Judi Lee Brandwein, who was a child in the much looser "free love" movement, sexual exploration and experiences didn't come wrapped up like a condom. They didn't require one, either. So imagine the confusion and frustration for Judi. She's now a 40-something divorcée with 20 years of marriage behind her, re-entering the danger zone of dating at an age when a women is at her sexual peak and in a time when a close encounter of any kind could be hazardous to your health.

Mark Travis developed and directed this one-woman show, written and performed by the appealing Brandwein. In slightly more than an hour, we listen and sympathize with Judi as she leaves her Ex-Hole (as she calls him); travels from Chicago to Los Angeles; takes dating advice from her chain-smoking best friend, Roxy; and goes in search of someone who "gets" her.

The writing gets a bit scattered and diffused at times, and Travis tends to keep her on a fairly even, and eventually unexciting, pitch. At times the show veers more into the realm of standup comedy. As a play, it lacks specificity and emotional levels. The characters are painted with a general wash: Roxy has her cigarette gestures, and there's a cop with a certain physical stance, but the rest is just dating soup. When Judi makes a phone call, she can't even bother to punch in seven digits. This sloppiness tends to infect the rest of the show and diminishes what could be a more involving production.

Distinct characterizations are essential in solo shows. And when a performer is traveling the kind of road that Brandwein is, emotional variances are critical as well. Funny is fine, and she does that fairly well. She's attractive and engaging. Now she needs to take the kinds of risks in her show that she has in her newfound single life, and reach out and explore more fully.

Presented by Papa Ball Productions at the Hudson Guild Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Wed. 8 p.m. Feb. 23-Jul. 5. (323) 960-7721. www.plays411.com/challenged.

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