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LA Theater Review

Lovelace: A Rock Opera

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According to the program note, the story of 1970s porn sensation Linda Lovelace began as the unlikely center of a "traditional" musical, but co-writers Anna Waronker and Charlotte Caffey felt that the unique subject matter was of such a "particular intensity" that it demanded much more: the framing of a rock opera. Gotta love those clever girls, because the result is a high-energy, nonstop, rock-'n'-roll trip into a strangely captivating world that's at the same time nightmarish and dreamlike, fun and unsettling, yet is also a bit of a tease.

Waronker and Caffey (formerly of the rock groups That Dog and the Go-Gos, respectively) are responsible for the book, music, and lyrics here, working from the original concept and song lyrics of Jeffery Leonard Bowman, but much of the success of Lovelace: A Rock Opera's world premiere lies in the hands of the entire production team and director Ken Sawyer. They've put together a standout group of actor-singers. Heading the cast is Katrina Lenk, whose charming and vulnerable Linda is the heart of the production, and she's got a killer voice, to boot. The silky-smooth Jimmy Swan is just plain brilliant as the man who introduces "the girl next door" to "his" world — that of drugs and sex clubs and ultimately pornography, where "the extremes of her talent" are showcased in the now-legendary Deep Throat. Smart lyrics and tunes have a shamelessly good time probing all sorts of naughty places and also lay bare the terror and isolation of a woman's sexual violation. Songs such as the lively "Let's Fuck" — sung by a terrific Josh Greene as Lovelace's co-star, Harry Reams — and Linda's own haunting ballad "Hide My Soul" are among the most memorable of the evening, but the ensemble members (Alan Palmer, Whitney Allen, Jill Marie Burke, Kelly Devoto, Sonya Bender, Curt Bonnen, Rachael Cavenaugh, and Milan Cronovich), featured in many roles, sustain an unrelenting drive throughout.

Sawyer makes solid use of every aspect of Joel Daavid's super set design; the production has visual bang and propels forward beautifully. Each actor seems very at home in this stylish vehicle and looks fantastic in Traci McWain's fine costumes. Where Lovelace: A Rock Opera falls short is the story, which is at times overly simplistic and at others full of misdirections and in the end leaves us sort of perplexed as to why any of it matters — even if we had fun, for a while.

Presented by Roz Bernstein Productions in association with and at the Hayworth Theatre, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. Oct. 18-Nov. 21. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. (323) 960-4442. www.plays411.com.

Reviewed by Jennie Webb

Desperate Writers

at Edgemar Center for the Arts

How disappointing when a catchy premise fails to fulfill expectations. There is potential hilarity in the trials and tribulations of Hollywood writers who battle with capricious studio executives, but the storytellers should set a consistent comedic style. Playwrights Joshua Grenrock and Catherine Schreiber, who also have featured roles in the production, mingle romantic comedy with farce, and the two styles are not a good mix here. Director Kay Cole makes the most of the farcical elements, but even she cannot overcome the material.

Ashley (Kate Hollinshead) and David (Chris Petschler) are a writing team that can't get a break. She wants to marry him and have a baby, but he wants to wait and get "all his ducks in a row." Everyone rejects their latest screenplay without reading it through to the end, so Ashley and David decide to kidnap three production executives and force them to listen to the entire script.

The first act establishes the writers' problems but is lackluster; nothing is original or engaging about the couple's romantic relationship. The humor begins to emerge in the second act, when the kidnapping occurs. Two of the hostages make comments on the script, treating their bizarre predicament as a pitch meeting, while eccentric characters enter and exit, heightening the farce. But just as the three captives are forced to hear the couple's script, so is the audience. As one character says, "It's derivative."

The most delicious moments are provided by Peter Van Norden as one of the hostages. He jumps headlong into the absurdity when he pleads the cause of the Hollywood executive. Grenrock and Schreiber are more impressive as the other captives than as the creators of this piece. Judy Nazemetz goes over the top as the couple's improbable agent, and it works. Petschler tries his best with a clichĂŠd character, and Hollinshead is appealing, but in this context her British accent gets in the way.

Presented by Alexandra Guarnieri at Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. Oct. 18-Dec. 14. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. (800) 595-4849. www.desperatewriters.com.

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