Be Brave, Anna!

Call her Vickie Lynn Hogan, Anna Nicole Smith, or proof that our culture teems with talentless celebutantes: Tara Schuster's Be Brave, Anna! asks us to feel for the late starlet and nearly succeeds. The 60-minute piece, directed by James Rutherford, parades most figures from Smith's circle before us, blaming all for her demise. But because both author and director have asked Jessie Renee Hopkins to seem even dimmer than Smith was in real life — not an easy task — it's tantamount to placing tacks on a raceway and revving the engine.

Indeed, how much comic mileage can you get out of a dead woman's stupidity? Yes, it's funny that Smith's son Daniel (Albert Huber) is written as a highly articulate character, though Smith thinks he's mute. Or that the play is written in an ornate style redolent of 19th-century melodramas, with actors affecting grand Shakespearean flourishes. Or that Smith's mother (Sarah Tolan-Mee) is depicted as a parody of the Wicked Witch of the West. Who was Smith when the camera lights were off? Don't ask — we'll never know. It wasn't important when Smith was alive; it's unimportant to ask now she's dead.

Schuster uses theatrical device — circuslike performer Cato (Andrew Evans) and two "neutered sex fiends" (Emily Friend Roberts and Jessica Goldschmidt) — too often, and it detracts and confuses things instead of illuminating and explaining.

Presented by M-34 as part of the New York International Fringe Festival at the Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal St., NYC. Aug. 15-23. Remaining performances: Thu., Aug. 21, 9:45 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 22, 3 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 23, 3:30 p.m. (212) 279-4488 or (866) 468-7619 or www.fringenyc.org.