Playwright-director Andrew Moore's fondness for backstage high jinks is apparent, and he nails the language of those who inhabit a 1942 San Francisco burlesque-house dressing room. But the work suffers dizzying bumps and grinds when he tries to meld melodrama with goofy, no-holds-barred slapstick, tossing in a few poorly sung songs for not-so-good measure.
Dancer Helen (Pamela Moore) is not pining for Scotty (Seth Caskey), who before going off to war promised to make an honest woman of her. Fat chance. Helen has gone with so many guys, she needs to take penicillin; her best friend and fellow performer, Ruby (an impressive Sarah Cook), is the one who wants Scotty, when he returns from the front with a missing limb. The most pointed and effective humor comes from Helen, who readily has a tart riposte, as when she complains she was "raised by saints who wouldn't let me drink." And Pamela Moore has the most dimensional character and makes the most of it, with a touching ambivalence about giving up her freedom for a life of domesticity she clearly does not want.
Moore, the playwright-director, however, should have opted for less. The piece runs far too long for its cloistered setting, and his knockabout bits of humor are far too over-the-top. Brian Gaston as Bottles, an ultra-geeky and nearsighted stagehand secretly in love with a dancer, chews the scenery when he is not purposely bumping into it. Judith Goldstein plays Agnes, a butch, socially concerned moral crusader who demands impeccable behavior on the part of the dancers and looks as though she is about to spontaneously combust at any moment. Moore undercuts the touching moments between Helen and Ruby with these characters and their unbridled depictions.
Costume designer Christine Guilmette gets high marks for her varied and smartly designed period clothing, and Starlet Jacobs cleverly blends the chaos of a dressing room with symbolic imagery of the '40s on the set. Symbolic of Andrew Moore's search for a cohesive play within this work, he bypasses a natural bittersweet ending for more onstage chicanery.
Presented by Theatre Unleashed at the Avery Schreiber Theatre, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Oct. 24.-Nov. 23. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (818) 849-4039 or www.theatreunleashed.com.