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THE LIES OF HANDSOME MEN

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It's a very stylish undertaking, this evening of two one-acts by Rob Nixon. The first, which gives its name to the evening, isn't so much theatre as straightforward storytelling. The Narrator (Alain Uy) even tells us how it's going to end. It's in the telling, though, that the interest lies. Dashingly handsome Kenny Donahue (Tim Orona) breezes into Manhattan in the late 1930s to live that glittering life he's only seen in magazines. He quickly learns that his doe eyes and ability to fill out a tux will open men's hearts, and those men will open society's doors. Various characters, posed around Matthew Scarpino's rather spare bar set, come to life only when it's their turn to contribute to the story.

As they talk, Kenny drifts through his own tale, sitting, gazing languidly, drifting, but never speaking, his words delivered by those around him. Cris D'Annunzio and Jon Amirkhan are quite effective as older men who take tender Kenny in, while Carol Hickey, who at first looks as if she's waiting to launch into her own production of Anna Christie, nicely handles her role as a landlady whose front rooms double as display cases for impoverished but fetching youths. The end is rather unmotivated and unsatisfying, but the getting there is fine. Nixon's writing is quite literary, nothing like speech, so when familiar song lyrics are inserted as text it's almost seamless. Leon Rothenberg's sound design is particularly nice, lending to that ineffable sense we're watching an almost completely faded memory.

It's quite another story in the second piece, Casse-Tete, nearly a movie waiting to happen it's so rife with plot and ideas. Kavedar (D'Annunzio, understated but solid) is the kind of New York artist who mounts a spatula on a base and gives it a title. Curator Mariella (Hickey) helpfully explains that it is the fact that the object was used by others that raises it from commodity to art. Enter Bangkok rent boy Uu (Uy), who takes Kavedar's card and soon thereafter shows up in Manhattan. He's not what he seems. It also turns out that Kavedar's former lover, also an artist, was brutally beaten to death, but it cannot be denied that a dead gay artist's prices are stratospheric. There's lots to chew on, and this is not a long play. Michael Cooper, whose direction is so understated in the first piece, shows a flair for traffic control in the second. The set and lights (Steve Pope) are also considerably more vibrant. Uy is a standout as the hooker trying to combine the skills of host and businessman in an Asian brothel, and Hickey is delightful as she rationalizes one innocuous objet trouvé after another.

"The Lies of Handsome Men," presented by the Canyon Theatre Ensemble, in association with Hudson Theatricals, at the Hudson Avenue Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m. Apr. 17-May 24. $15. (323) 856-4200.

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