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LOW LEVEL PANIC

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This revival of British playwright Clare McIntyre's exploration of body image and exploitation among three roommates suffers from several glaring flaws, notably tepid acting and directing, as well as an awkward transplantation of the setting from London to Los Angeles.

How the roommates Mary (Angela Wiggins), Jo (Tonya Jones), and Celia (Jenn Robbins) ended up sharing an apartment is the main mystery of the play. They seem to care little for one another and spend most their time arguing over who gets to use the bathroom. And then there are the long, self-involved diatribes that they spout at one another, not apparently concerned about whom they are talking to but instead spewing forth a sea of troubles, mostly directed at their own insecurities or at the catalyst for those insecurities, men.

Whether McIntyre intended this high-pitched cacophony is an open question. Director Adele Cabot seems to have chosen a high-volume, straight-ahead approach to the material, ignoring any subtleties or humor in the text as the characters leap from one screaming fit to another. Although there are one or two quieter moments in the form of monologues, Cabot unleashes her actors into a virtually nonstop angry race through the text.

The acting is also quite weak. From the moment Jones begins her lament about her body while sitting in the bathtub, we have the impression of an actor reciting lines rather than of a character living them. Wiggins also struggles with her character, often substituting posing for any characterization. Robbins is somewhat better, finding more subtlety of delivery and gesture. However, the effect is that of an average college production more than that of professional theatre.

One choice that certainly hampers the actors and the director is setting a British play—filled with British rhythms and tone—in contemporary L.A., apparently without any revisions by the playwright (at least none were credited). Theatre is, after all, based on language, and much of the richness of the text and the experience itself is lost when settings are arbitrarily shifted. Perhaps the actors did not feel confident with British accents, but then the decision to mount a modern British piece becomes all the more suspect.

The sole bright spot in the production is the set design by John H. Binkley, which transforms the rather dismal space at the Complex into a soaring and airy bathroom—which, frankly, suggests contemporary London more than modern L.A.—and serves as another unfortunate reminder of the production's misguided direction.

"Low Level Panic," presented by Forbidden Fruit Theatre Company at the Dorie Theatre at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m. Feb. 20-Mar. 13. $15. (323) 769-7030.

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