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at the Art/Works Theatre

Whenever a youthful and ambitious new theatre company emerges in our film industry–dominated town, it's something to applaud. Unfortunately the talented and well-meaning participants of Cassiopeia Theatre Company, who according to their mission statement strive to celebrate the "undaunted expression of human experience," have made a misstep. This lightweight, predictable exploration of life in a boarding school for angst-ridden rich kids offers as much depth of human experience as does an old episode of Saved By the Bell.

Maybe no one goes all Brady Bunch over an errant pimple in Jeny Quine's play, but there is the freshman (CeCe Cline) trying to compete with the legend of her overachieving sister, a stuck-up social clique of short-skirted future debs, a sought-after Ivy League cutie who turns out to be the gardener's son (Sean Hankinson), even a missing school ring planted to send the same guy packing by his nasty roommate (Jeff Kongs). Nothing's new here, not even the inexplicable occasional visits from the spirits of three departed coeds who haunt the bathroom stalls like Harry Potter's Moaning Myrtle. All this notwithstanding, there are some wonderful moments from this group of promising young artists, particularly Hankinson's sweetly endearing male ingénue, Melissa Strom's lovably pouting daughter of a South American dictator, and April Adams' merciless headmistress; and Brandee Tucker must be commended for making the jealous dorm-mate a real person.

Under Gregory Doucette's direction, Cassiopeia breaks the cardinal rule of small theatre, with set changes—numbering more than 20—that take longer than the scenes. Each of the 13 cast members interrupts the irritatingly short sitcom-length interludes by carting crisscrossing tabletops and benches around in blue light, bumping into one another while desperately trying to stay in character. It's perhaps the most interesting thing happening on this stage, making one wonder if more time was spent on rehearsing the traffic-jamming set changes than on the scenes—one of which lasts less than a minute. If this isn't a project geared for a future as a possible TV pilot rather than as a work designed for the stage, I'll eat my remote control.

Presented by Cassiopeia Theatre Company at the Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m. Feb. 10-Mar. 4. (323) 860-6585.

Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder

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