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SPARKLING PLANET

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at the Lyric Hyperion Theatre

Trying to recapture the youth of your memories is a frequent theme in literature. Sometimes it is a fruitless endeavor, at other times a transformative one. Douglas Carter Beane's comedy about three Philadelphia men who are facing middle age takes on that challenge with mixed results.

Hoagie (Chris Damiano), Wags (Michael Spellman), and Miller (David Kaufman) have been friends since childhood. Now in their mid-30s, they still get together for nostalgia sessions, including trivia about 1970s television shows. Their fantasies center on Tamara Tomorrow (Kelly Lloyd), a silver-clad emissary from the future, who introduced favorite animated cartoons, such as Speed Racer, mixed with prophecies, such as, "I predict that by 2001 everyone will have a computer." That was pretty heady stuff for kids of the '70s as they watched her on their mahogany console television sets.

As they grapple with personal demons, the guys make the decision to find their heroine. This last hurrah to childhood, however hackneyed, yields sentimental moments from the cast. John O'Brien adds a poignant touch as Tomorrow's mentor and love interest.

Beane's script is too neatly predictable: Two of the men have commitment problems and the third is the stereotypical underachiever. That any of it works at all is due largely to Lloyd's plucky, offbeat persona and the ensemble's earnest endeavor. Director Richard Israel concentrates on personalities through the sluggish, bromidic first act and generates goodwill as he tidies up all the conflicts by play's end.

Costume designer Marina Mouhibian's form-fitting, bell-bottomed space suit, complete with sprightly antenna topper, achieves a stardom of its own. Sound by Rebecca Kessin is also evocative, as old-time television theme songs hover over the proceedings.

Though very little new ground is broken in this comedy, it makes a nice opener for West Coast Ensemble's first offering in its new space. The intimacy of the venue allows the audience to engage more closely with the actors and provides an amiable evening.

Presented by West Coast Ensemble at the Lyric Hyperion Theatre, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Silverlake. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Feb. 9-Apr. 1. (800) 595-4849. www.wcensemble.org.

Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann

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