at the Reuben Cordova
This program of one-acts by the Theatre 40 Writer's Workshop is long on acting talent and diversity of material. Its shortage may be considered to be in some of the writing. "First Date," by Gene Lesser, is a shaky beginning, as a New England college student's car breaks down in a rainstorm, leaving him stuck at the farmhouse of an old wacko. Lesser has little territory to mine here, and odd lighting effects representing lightning do not help. Jim McGinn's "A Small Place in History" features a powerful turn by Erik Passoja as Ralph, a mentally handicapped man interviewed gently by a psychiatrist (Ellyn Stern), after he has been used to assassinate a political candidate. Stern does a terrific job moving from compassionate professionalism to indignation, but again, the writing wanders off at the end.
"Noir Light," by Richard Martin Hirsch, is a silly romp: an all-female send-up of detective stories that blazes by so fast that the bad jokes are quickly replaced with good ones. Melanie MacQueen deserves kudos for her inventiveness in directing her players onstage and in the audience. This tale to recover a stolen bauble from a chipmunklike villain, the Monk (J C Henning), has laughs galore, and Hirsch knows how to construct goofy narration for the sometimes-inaudible Jackie Maruschak as Tuesday Monday, as when she declares, "Time was closing in like a bill collector on crystal meth."
"Catch of the Day," by Alice Lunsford, is a loony look at a conniving Southern family whose patriarch, the marvelously cranky Otis Bentley (Bruce Schroffel), has problems with his company, Flakey Fish Fries; his daughters, who are involved with marrying the same man; and his wife (a wonderfully wacky Lunsford), who cares only about getting a new car. Christine Joelie also does nice work as the elegant, bitchy beauty queen daughter who prances about like she is always on a runway.
Nalsey Tinberg's "Back to the Barbizon" uses a solid group of performers but to little effect, as the script—a short melodramatic look at a reunion of elderly women—is more than a bit cloying, trying to resolve longstanding problems in its brief length. The writing is also too heavy on exposition and uses a ghost character to less-than-stirring effect.
Finally, in "Exeunt O'Brien and Krasnov," directed smartly by Stu Berg, in which O'Brien (Jacqueline Scott), a janitor in a Broadway theatre, is visited in the supposedly empty theatre by Krasnov (Dick Stampolis), an elegant elderly gent who claims to be an actor-writer-producer-director and encourages her with acting lessons. Both actors do top-notch work, Scott especially impressive as a cleaning lady who develops her acting before our very eyes. Hindi Brooks' script nicely provides just the right amount of pathos at the end of this work, which concludes a generally well-acted and moderately well-written program.
Presented by Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Jun. 8-25. (818) 693-0157.
Reviewed by Brad Schreiber