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Journalists, who are among the least-trusted and least-respected groups, make perfect fodder for bad guys in fiction. English playwright Joe Penhall lambastes the media this American premiere, directed by David Emmes. But reporters without scruples or a conscience is a topic that has been covered many times with more originality than Penhall does here. The cast of three provides depth to the characters, and Emmes has infused needed energy. Also, Angela Balogh Calin's sleek London hotel-room set is attractive. But Penhall's script suffers from trying to cover too much territory. At times he succeeds with moments of humor. But most of the two hours is disjointed ad sloppy.

The biggest flaw in Penhall's script is its first scene, in which aging TV star Barry (Micheal McShane) is being wooed by a pair of bankers named John and Jane (John Rafter Lee and Heidi Dippold). John and Jane want Barry to let them handle his financial affairs, and they want him to speak to the bank employees, for which they will pay Barry a large fee. As the scene progresses, nothing happens, which becomes a clear giveaway that the scene is nothing more than a setup for something else. It turns out that John and Jane are reporters Greg and Liz, who catch a married Barry on videotape doing drugs and making advances toward Liz.

McShane is believable as the troubled Barry, mixing equal parts of runaway ego and deep insecurity. He makes Barry sympathetic but at times loathsome. Dippold ably handles the difficult role of Liz, a woman incapable of emotion. And Lee appears to relish his turn as the totally despicable Greg, portraying him without an ounce of softness. The strongest asset of Dumb Show is its jokes, which Emmes assists by pacing the dialogue quickly and keeping his characters in motion much of the time. But Penhall's script lacks focus. The unnecessarily long first scene is followed by a series of confrontations that begin with the unethical practices of journalists and transition to how the actions of Liz and Greg are injuring Barry's wife—a character we never meet. There isn't a climax to the show but rather a conclusion that isn't needed and provides nothing new.

"Dumb Show," presented by and at South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa. Tue.-Fri. 7:45 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 2 & 7:45 p.m. Oct. 2-16. $20-58. (714) 708-5555.

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