REVIEWSTHE MAGIC FIRE

at the Angus Bowmer Theatre

Reviewed by Dani Dodge

In The Magic Fire, the protagonist, Lise, goes back to the time and place of her childhood--Argentina 1952--only to discover that the music she remembers was a mask hiding the terror-stricken faces of a family. Directed by Libby Appel, the world premiere of Lillian Garrett-Groag's brilliant play is a similarly compelling discovery.

Garrett-Groag toys with convention: At times the seven-year-old Lise (Alyn McKenna Bartell) shares truffles with the grown-up version of herself (Vilma Silva). But like memory, the recognition of the older Lise by other characters fades in and out. But despite its constant assault on reality, the play never creates a dissonance--a tribute to Appel's skilled ensemble.

The play begins with a prologue that is all bare stage and innocence. But the back of the empty stage is a scrim that with the first scene is lit to reveal an elaborate, faded drawing room, and a father telling the tales of opera to young Lise in her bunny slippers. As Lise's imagination is consumed by the fables, fire seems to lick at the windows. The effect, wrought by scenic designer Richard L. Hay and lighting director Ann G. Wrightson, is riveting.

As Lise learns the political truths that eventually drive some of her family from Argentina and ends up killing others, the play takes on an incrementally darker tone. But in the deepening doom, Lise's family remains a shining beacon.

One of the most remarkable performances is Eileen DeSandre's as Maddalena Guarneri, a sour, salty 98-year-old great grandmother. And as young Lise, Bartell enchants with a raw wit and compelling presence.

It is fortunate that the festival commissioned this play in 1993 and let it flower to full production this year: Its deep layers have unfolded lusciously.

"The Magic Fire," presented by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival at the Angus Bowmer Theatre, 15 S. Pioneer St., Ashland. Aug. 2-Nov. 2. (541)482-4331.

AN AMERICAN

ROMANCE

at the Road Theatre

Reviewed by Daryl H. Miller

Utopia is only as perfect as the people who inhabit it, Mark Lee wryly reminds us in his remarkable new play. Writing about Brook Farm, a utopian community in West Roxbury, Mass., in the 1840s, Lee expands his theme to the broader American social experiment. (You could argue, after all, that the founding fathers intended America to be a utopian society of a sort.) Brook Farm's inhabitants, as Lee imagines them, are high-minded yet achingly human--which means they can be unpredictable, hypocritical and just plain ornery.

Woven through this is a sort of extended riff on romance and the philosophy of Romanticism. For while the farm's inhabitants espouse various Romantic beliefs--such as the celebration of self and the joy of nature--they are driven (and nearly undone) by the other, more carnal sort of romance.

As the story begins, idealism is already showing its seams. Influenced by transcendentalist thinking, Brook Farm is intended as an egalitarian community of shared labor and pooled thought. Yet in establishing the farm's routines, founder George Ripley (James K. Ward), a former Unitarian minister, reveals some leftover paternalistic prejudices that lead to showdowns (over who hauls and who rakes manure, of all things) with the independent-minded editor Margaret Fuller (Ann Gillespie) and with his own sunny, forbearing wife (Taylor Gilbert). Meanwhile, foppish poet Charles King Newcomb (David Holcomb) runs around quoting Shakespeare and riling tempers (when he's not trying to get out of his chores).

Into this mix arrives author Nathaniel Hawthorne (John Rafter Lee), a painfully reserved and serious young man who's gotten it into his head that he wants to write a romance novel.

The true test of this community comes with the arrival of a pair of struggling young immigrants (Marci Hill and Rich Willis) who show up uninvited. Here, Lee contemplates what happened when immigrants brushed up against the established, upwardly mobile inhabitants of early America. Can the bourgeoisie-in-farmers'-clothing of Brook Farm live up to the ideals of true fellowship and equality? And can they withstand the flames of passion that the vital newcomers ignite?

The storytelling is a bit goofy and obtuse at times, but Lee (the author of Pirates and Rebel Armies Deep Into Chad) pulls it all together at the end. The performances are uniformly vivid, under John Lawler's flowing, graceful direction. And Wes McBride's set design--a fanciful backdrop of bright blue sky and fluffy clouds--establishes an atmosphere of unlimited potential.

Brook Farm lasted just six years. Yet, as Lee so eloquently puts it: "All is possible, all is possible--but only if we find a new world in our hearts."

"An American Romance," presented by and at the Road Theatre in the Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. July 11-Aug. 17. (818) 761-8838.

WHAT IS ART?

at the Court Theatre

Reviewed by Sally Johnson

Strong performances by a spry and energetic ensemble breathe life into Wm. S. Leavengood's lightweight romp What Is Art? Leavengood bluntly skewers everything in sight: the meaning of modern art, NEA aesthetics, venal publicists, quack chiropractors, even Alzheimer's Disease, while simultaneously flinging spitballs in the direction of conspicuous sacred cows: Islamic fundamentalism, gay sensitivity, mental disability, and Third World genocide.

Ian Ziering is Art Angeley, the adorably hapless but hopelessly likable parasite who persuades his friend Fred Spawn, the super at a swanky New York condo (a winningly natural Greer Coursey), to let him into famous abstract artist's Akril L'Atexio's apartment so he can impersonate the famous artist and seduce lovely French groupie/art dealer Veronique (played with pouty allure by Marcy Kaplan). Meanwhile, people start arriving unannounced at the apartment, interrupting Art's designs in a flurry of mistaken identities and crossed plans.

L'Atexio's sleazebag publicist (a superlatively vicious Thomas Tofel) barges in, determined to engineer a scandal for NEA agent Biff Shingles (Ian Gomez), who is actually a hired assassin of the Emir of Pepsmear. Art's Alzheimer-impaired dingbat mother (gamely played by comedian Joy Claussen) drops by expecting to find her son, the chiropractor. The real L'Atexio (Adam Paul) and his androgynous companion Dee Wraith (Helen Cates) let themselves in, only to be locked (back) in the closet. To cap it off, Art's mother falls for exiled dictator Ferdinand Bhrundi (Joseph Della Sorte), and Art's sister Meg (Rhonda Aldrich) carries a flame for straight-man Fred.

It's hard to resist a play that revels in such terrifically bad taste, and the show has a natty surface quality, moving swiftly under director Lawrence Cox's scrupulous eye, Stephen Halbert's excellent sound design, J. Kent Inasy's lighting, and a svelte, streamlined apartment by Sets to Go.

As the the play's protagonist, Ziering might register more anxiety during this farcical two-hour-long coitus interruptus. But why quibble? What Is Art? may not answer the question--unless the answer is "a bad chiropractor"--but it is a thoroughly watchable trifle.

"What Is Art?," presented by SHME Productions at the Court Theatre, 722 N. La Cienega Blve., Los Angeles. Aug. 2-Sept. 7. (818) 789-8499.

GHOST STORIES and HOOK, ROD, AND PIPE

at Glaxa Studios

Reviewed by Paul Birchall

Don't look for monsters, ghouls, or goblins in this collection of five one-act plays by Heather Dundas. The ghosts in the title of director Charlie Stratton's crisply staged and inventive production refer to forces of memory--and the feel of these intriguingly emotionally evocative pieces is often wistful and rueful rather than scary.

In the moody, beautifully executed A Bad Voyage Home, a self-proclaimed "WASP princess" (Jayne Amelia Larson) comes to a disturbing conclusion about her upbringing when she discovers the explanations behind her having bland white skin. Larson offers an eerie performance that's prissy but likable, and she portrays a tragically useless creature miserably aware of her every shortcoming.

Fishing is a mysterious, delicately written tour de force in which a mother (Alexandra Hedison) traps her sister (O-Lan Jones) into diving for treasure by tying her to the edge of a fishing raft. The piece is clearly meant to be a parable, and is not always entirely comprehensible, but Jones, one of this city's local acting treasures, brings such a pleasurable sense of excitement to her character that the drama is engrossingly involving.

In the hysterically funny Cannibals, a harried mom (Deirdre O'Connell) drives a carload of screaming, howling bratty children to school. O'Connell's escalating frustration and annoyance is masterfully drawn, and the "children" (portrayed by Jones, Sandra Purpuro, Hedison, and Tim Choate) are hilarious to watch as they gleefully try to upstage each other.

Of the remaining vignettes, Victor and Antonette Go Camping, about a city couple on a camping trip, feels overly clichƒd and conventional, while Morning Prayer, about a gay man's memories of his parents, is too insubstantial to make a lasting impression.

The program is opened by the charming if insubstantial performance art piece Hook, Rod, and Pipe, in which John Michael Morgan portrays a man mad about fishing. The piece is a little overtly derivative of Spalding Grey's monologue style--though this liability is more than made up for by the bizarre antics of the all-female group of backup "fishes" (Larson, Jones, and Purpuro).

"Ghost Stories" and "Hook, Rod, and Pipe," presented by the Wilton Project at Glaxa Studios, 3707 Sunset Blvd., Silverlake. July 25-Aug. 17. (213) 931-6599.

THE WHO'S TOMMY

at the Festival Theatre

Reviewed by Starshine Roshell

Tommy may be deaf, dumb, and blind, but the ever-ambitious PCPA Theaterfest shows tremendous vision in staging this musical about a traumatized tyke turned teen idol. Never mind the weak, contrived storyline--this show isn't about plot, it's about volume, vocals, and visuals of epic proportions.

The production is a far-out feast for the peepers, a visual event that staggers the imagination and leaves the audience breathless. Director/choreographer Michael Bernard puts his tireless and talented cast of 30--led by Howie Lotker as Tommy and Wade Michael McCollum as Cousin Kevin--to splendid use sliding down ropes, leaping from rickety platforms, and literally doing backflips to maintain the play's outrageous energy level. Meanwhile, scenic designer R. Eric Stone has the actors wheeling around countless pieces of versatile grey scaffolding that serve as a set.

Props and special effects such as flaming pinball machines, neon test tubes, and gratuitously colorful video screens contribute to the spectacle. And costumer Judith Ryerson does a seamless job of communicating short leaps in time with subtle shifts in style.

Unfortunately, where Tommy scores with sight, it fails with sound. Instead of using an orchestra or live rock band, the production reduces Pete Townshend's riveting, powerhouse licks to a pre-recorded synthesizer soundtrack. Admittedly, musical director Michael Gribbin plays a mean keyboard, but without an electric guitar to speak of, tunes like "I'm Free" and "We're Not Gonna Take It" are mute. And, with the exception of tone-deaf Acid Queen Crystal M. Walker (who shoots up her acid--oops!) and a few studied voices, the singing is merely middling. Even the best vocalists were hindered by significant sound glitches with their headset microphones on the night reviewed.

The Who's Tommy plays like Jesus Christ Superstar for the MTV generation. Sure, it has its crosses to bear, but Theaterfest makes us glad the 1969 album was resurrected.

"The Who's Tommy," presented by PCPA Theaterfest at the Festival Theatre, 420 Second St., Solvang. July 31-Aug. 16. (805) 922-8313.

HAPLET, PRINCE OF BROOKLYN

at the Globe Playhouse

Reviewed by Wenzel Jones

This show falls into the category of "a little bit goes a long way." The premise is this: Insufferable impresario J. Quincy Wagstaff (David Davalos, also director and co-author) berates his cast for taking the lacu„a--that's a pause, for those of us who attended popularly priced acting classes--and demands that his cast perform Hamlet in jig time. Fifteen minutes, to be precise. They do. It's cute, it's funny, it's frantic.

Then he is inspired to have the cast perform their other repertory offering, a deconstructed Death of a Salesman, in the same fashion. They do. It's cute, it's funny, it's frantic.

He is then inspired to have them performed simultaneously. Act break. They have now set themselves up to either transcend cute, funny, and frantic or just repeat themselves. Or just repeat themselves.

The script is written (with Joe Reynolds) with both love for the original source material and a certain amount of irritation with their soporific pacing. The acting here is first-rate throughout, with a nod to the more pork-redolent variety. But unless you can master the trick of Noises Off, where an hour of set-up pays off with an hour of solid laughs, you're trapped in that put-up-or-shut-up corner from which few escape unscathed.

That said, Haplet is still worth seeing for the performances. Reynolds and J. Paul Boehmer are delightful in their respective Hamlet/Happy, Horatio/Biff roles. Boehmer is at his best playing Biff as a brain-dead but really sweet guy. Adam Menken, in the Ghost/Willy roles, must also be noted for deciding that Dustin Hoffman just wasn't weird enough in his turn as Willy Loman and layering Martin Short onto a very similar characterization. In the Gertrude/Linda roles, Diane Perell both suffers and titillates engagingly. If only there were some way to just drop the first act

"Haplet, Prince of Brooklyn," presented by the Epoch Theatre Company at the Globe Playhouse, 1107 N. Kings Road, W. Hollywood. July 23-Aug. 28. (213) 957-4880.

WHO LIVES?

at the 24th Street Theatre

Reviewed by Madeleine Shaner

Set in the 1960s, when dialysis was a new and extremely limited procedure available only to the few, Christopher Meeks' play Who Lives? deals with issues of life and death, the value of a human soul, and the strictures of personal value systems that stand in the way of rather than help make difficult decisions.

Meeks' fictional panel, based to some extent on the precedent-setting original Seattle committee, consists of a labor leader (Doug Burch), Father William (George Pappas), a shopkeeper (Michael Monks), a housewife (Cathy Lindy Hayes), and a single woman (Stacy Cunningham). When Gabriel (John Pleshette), an irascible lawyer, finds himself at the mercy of this tentative court, he bullies his way in and forces the panel to face the realities of their decisions as he sees them. His physician, Dr. Shuster (the equally irascible Stephen Weingarten), is also called to serve as a panelist, thus making doctor and patient responsible for one's life and the other's reputation.

Falling short of the omnipotence of supreme arbiters, the committee consists only of normal humans, each of whom has his own agenda and his own preconceptions. With some minor exceptions, the play works on a highly dramatic level, engaging the intellect and the emotions in equally demanding proportions, a combination devoutly to be wished. Gabriel's final change of heart--from a marital tyrant to a man aching for the human contact his previously spurned wife (a lovely Cynthia Steele) can give him--reeks of dramaturgical manipulation, but is redeemed by the exquisitely written, brutally painful realities of a well-observed husband/wife relationship.

In the best spirit of good drama, all these characters travel from Point A to various other points in the alphabet of positive change, making for an intriguing, beautifully balanced play, thoughtfully handled by a sensitive director, Debbie Devine, and a first-rate cast.

"Who Lives?," presented by Brenda Friend at the 24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., Los Angeles. July 19-Aug. 24. (213) 658-4050.

THE MODEL APARTMENT

at the Mandell Weiss Forum

Reviewed by Jeff Niesel

The Florida retirement complex Max (George Coe) and Lola (Rosemary Prinz) have chosen to spend their final days in appears to be the perfect place to find peace and quiet. Although the apartment they've chosen is not yet ready when they arrive, they are prepared to spend a few days in a model that closely resembles their future residence. The model may not have all the luxuries of the real thing--the TV and refrigerators are empty boxes, and it has only one room--but despite these inconveniences, things are looking up for the couple, both of whom spent time in Nazi-run concentration camps before coming to America.

But looks can be deceiving, and Donald Margulies' The Model Apartment, set in 1985, soon becomes such a nightmare that by the end, the place is thrashed.

What goes wrong? Well, for one, Max and Lola's obese, neurotic daughter Debby (Roberta Wallach) arrives like a hurricane and turns things upside down. She has followed the two all the way from New York because a neighbor gave her a tip regarding her parents' surreptitious late-night departure. Foul-mouthed and loud, Debby, who makes up a story about being raped by Nazis at the Howard Johnson's, is the bane of her parents' existence--a constant reminder of their Holocaust sufferings.

Ultimately, Wallach takes Debby a bit too far over the top, dripping milk down her chin as she eats her cereal, swaggering with as much awkward pride as Jackie Gleason. And when her boyfriend (Akili Prince) arrives and she forcefully fornicates in her parents' presence, the play's metaphor about dealing with post-traumatic stress becomes painfully obvious: Debby is the result of her parents' refusal to deal with their suffering.

On the other hand, there's Deborah (also played by Wallach), the daughter that Max never had, who comes to him in his dreams and attempts to console him when life with the real Debby gets crazy. These scenes are touching, though no less heavyhanded. Director Mark Rucker would have been better off if he had his cast show more restraint in their characterizations, and let Margulies' script naturally unfold.

"The Model Apartment," presented by the La Jolla Playhouse at the Mandell Weiss Forum, La Jolla. July 22-Aug. 24. (619) 550-1010.

MY MOST IMPORTANT YEAR

at the Hudson Avenue Theatre

Reviewed by Madeleine Shaner

Richard Polak's My Most Important Year chronicles the high school senior year of David (Andrew Ybarra), which has more than its share of lumps. Dad (Peter Savard) leaves, Mom (Jennifer Williams) dies of cancer, David flounders into drugs and probation, and Bonnie (Lisa Thames) gets into bad company when she isn't having seizures, and before she overdoses.

David, a quivering package of adolescent angst made flesh, is otherwise undistinguished in any way. When his mixed-up world falls apart, all that's left is the pain that he and his father wear like full body armor; they simply won't admit any feelings that don't feed into the exquisite anguish they both enjoy.

Indeed, there is little investigation of any of the characters other than David, who is swaddled in frustration and repressed anger. Ybarra gives a sweet performance, but can't overcome the orgy of hand-wringing and breast-beating that becomes quickly tired and eventually tiresome, dominating a repetitive and undramatic two hours and 10 minutes. As David's new and improved friend Mitch, Greg Fleischer (standing in for Beau Blaine) offers a fresh viewpoint on an old theme.

Tom Buderwitz's set is simple and effective, with cloud-painted panels symbolically ringing the picket-fenced garden painted on the floor, all the better to be trodden underfoot. Director Deborah LaVine uses the small space well, but can't overcome the limitations of the simplistically freighted, father-doesn't-know-best plot.

"My Most Important Year," presented by Cinestage Productions in association with Robert E. Alschuler, Susan Alschuler, and Sheilah Goldman at the Hudson Avenue Theatre, 1110 N. Hudson Ave., Hollywood. July 18-Aug. 24. (213) 466-1767.

THE GAY '90s MUSICAL

at the Celebration Theatre

Reviewed by Wenzel Jones

Goodness knows, no one is fonder of queer revues than I. The first time I saw Howard Crabtree's Whoop-Dee-Doo in New York, I was transported, in a silly sort of way.

But this show well, suffice to say I didn't get it. It has all the earnest pain of a show staged 20 years ago, when its material would have actually been sensational, yet the Gay '90s Musical, as its title indicates, wants to be contemporary. Unfortunately, it's trapped in the quaint, self-defeating sensibility of "We're different--but we're just like you!" There's none of the flamboyance, the sparkle, the gayness, that used to make gay theatre so exciting. People who want to see people just like them stay home.

It doesn't help that it's being performed in a very unforgiving space; the Celebration is not only small, it has the remarkable ability to flatten any voice. Still, both Kirby Tepper and Peggy Hewitt get a lot of mileage out of their comic pieces. Tepper's "Lookin' At Me" and Hewitt's "Well Spoken Woman" are highlights. Hewitt is especially funny; she evokes Mrs. Brady after Sapphic Summer Camp.

But these comic moments are interspersed with far too many ballads that meander between the cute and the treacly, leaning especially toward the latter. The most affecting of these are rendered by Deborah Nishimura: "Mirror Image," in which Michael Gilliam's elegant lights sculpt her quite extraordinary face, and "Jonathan Wesley Oliver Jr.," a sad but unfortunately telegraphed piece (a woman, a spot, a guitar--I guess he's dead).

Bill Ledesma, Bill Hutton, and Margot Rose round out the cast, though none are as well served by the material. Rose's biggest turn is the number "All the Good Men Are Gay"; she has to sing loudly to overcome the creakiness of this one. Director David Galligan's theme seems to be, "We're here, we're queer, we're now as dreadfully uninspired as everyone else."

"The Gay '90s Musical," presented by Ronn Goswick at the Celebration Theatre, 7051 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Aug. 2-31. (213) 660-8587.

TWO OUT, BOTTOM OF THE NINTH

at Theatre East

Reviewed by Brad Schreiber

Playwright Vince McKewin hits over .300 with this charming play of monologues surrounding the last game of an umpire's career. But some of the actors go down swinging, and director Stu Berg has coached this production with minor league skills.

The warm-up is a clever combination of vendors as a cappella singers, brought to us courtesy of the Moorpark Mixed Quartet. Jeff Blumberg is goofily effusive as an over-ethusiastic announcer, but co-anchor Curt Collier kills their bits with his lethargy and lack of comedic timing. Similarly, some of the finer players here are overshadowed by others who should be bench warmers for their lack of diction, focus, or simulated athletic ability.

Joe Cappelletti hits one over the fence as an Italian pinch hitter with plastic elbow implants ("elbows by Mattel") who compensates for his loss of his previous strength and throwing ability by bragging about the wisdom of his financial investments. Cappelletti's terrific transition from humor to flashes of resentment puts him at the head of the roster.

McKewin, whose scathingly smart indictment of advertising, Ad Wars, was such a sparkling production at the Court Theatre, is ill-served by Berg, who cannot control varying performances, a wavering pace, or the missing-in-action sound design, which would have helped immeasureably. McKewin should apply for free agency and bring his skills to another ballpark.

"Two Out, Bottom of the Ninth," presented by and at Theatre East, 12655 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. July 26-Aug. 31. (818) 760-4160.

ALL SAINTS' DAY

at Theatre of NOTE

Reviewed by Rob Kendt

Playwright Hank Bunker's All Saints' Day has everything going for it--rich characters and conflicts, a distinctively unsettling tone, twisting veins of subtext, a keen observational eye--except dramatic action. Indeed, it's almost as if this world premiere production under director Susan Fenichell has all the elements of a startlingly original play without the actual play.

The script follows the abortive interaction of two aimless Midwestern brothers (Brad Kalas and Matthew Blair) with the twin daughters of a messed-up middle-class family whose matriarch (Pamela Gordon) is a blowsy drunk and whose patriarch (James Massey) is a gruff, gun-wielding lapsed Catholic.

Their religion is not incidental here; indeed, apart from some wry tweaking of the church, Bunker appears quite straight-facedly concerned about the workings of divine grace in a fallen world. That, at least, seems to be the point of having the youngest scion of the family, a precocious nine-year-old Boy Scout (Terin Jackson), interrogate his elders about Limbo and the eternal soul, and to make one of the twins (Danielle Bourgon) a tremulous visionary who can smell water and once talked to God.

But the apparent test case for divine grace--a tense loafer played with one and a half notes (slow burn and fizzle) by Kalas--is an extraordinarily uncompelling fellow. And the play's second act, which takes place on the spiritually significant night of Halloween, is bulldozed by a drawn-out drunken aria by a "pagan" tycoon (Carl J. Johnson) who's marrying into the family; his swilling effrontery would be a lot funnier and less unpleasant if Bunker and Johnson didn't sketch him with such evident contempt. And, after all its hints of profound transgression and its shifting perspectives, the play climaxes with a remarkably half-hearted and pedestrian moment of domestic melodrama.

Denise Poirier's set and Audrey Fisher's costumes nearly perfectly capture late-20th-century suburban kitsch, and they're lit with obstinate two-dimensionality by Dan Reed. But Fenichell's pacing is ponderous and her casting perverse. Only Blair, Bourgon, Jackson, and Jerri White (as a poorly used black maid) seem to serve their parts as written. But then, that's the real problem here: The writing itself would best be served by sharper shaping all around. If Bunker wants us to take his themes seriously, he should take his craft a little more seriously, as well.

"All Saints' Day," presented by and at Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. Aug. 1-Sept. 6. (213) 856-8611.

BARBIZON

at the Whitefire Theatre

Reviewed by Les Spindle

When was the last time you heard a song refrain like "I'm Saving My Kisses Until I'm a Mrs."? Or a love ballad that ends with "What's That Tingling in My Feet?" No, it's not a jingle for an athlete's foot powder commercial or a wicked musical parody a la Forbidden Broadway. Indeed, the most shocking thing about Barbizon is that its creators actually want us to accept their bizarre creation as a bona fide book musical. Jack Yantz (book and lyrics), Ron Brown (music), and Deborah Lee Hall (director) have apparently aimed for a whimsical period musical like The Boy Friend. What emerges instead is a terrifying vision of musical comedy hell.

Setting their anemic tale in the early 1900s at a luxurious vacation resort, the creators have artlessly stitched together the stalest romantic subplots imaginable, shoehorned in unmelodic and banal song snippets, and clumsily crammed a cast of 17 onto J. J. Edwards' cutesy dollhouse-sized set. Add in Hall's plodding direction and Laurienne Singer's insipid choreography, and the recipe for unqualified disaster is complete.

On opening night, the obviously under-rehearsed cast was more to be pitied than censured, as they undoubtedly prayed for small favors--like the incessant chatter of a child in the audience, which thankfully obscured much of the asinine dialogue, or the tinny, Muzak-like accompaniment that emerged awkwardly from backstage, fortunately overpowering the miniscule, off-key voices of most of the cast members.

No need to humiliate any of the performers further with specific mention, but several have been cast with utter disregard for physical type or their character's ages. May I suggest that to achieve a more credible ensemble--and to mercifully salvage the performers' reputations--Yantz should put them all under masks, change the locale to Hades, and rename this ill-fated creation Beelzebub.

"Barbizon," presented by Rose Productions at the Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. July 31-Aug 24. (818