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Playwright Laura Shamas, tilting on its axis the recent trend of outsourcing American jobs to foreign countries, has concocted a plot for Re-Sourcing that's as original as it is loaded with comic possibilities. And because her idea shows such creativity, it makes the production's numerous shortcomings that much harder to stomach. Despite an earnest cast, Shamas' uneven dialogue, combined with sloppy direction by Jules Aaron, creates a 90-minute performance that, except for one successful comic payoff, slowly disintegrates into a series of awkward, unfunny exchanges.

The promising early scenes build a wacky concept. Four customer service employees in Paris, Ark., work for a large computer software company until they are fired and replaced by a company in India. Daubney (Paul Kouri), the group's supervisor, schemes to send an East-Indian American to the company's headquarters in Houston to convince the top brass that he has a better, cheaper customer service team in India. The plan is for the Arkansas natives to learn to speak like Indians and to have the calls rerouted to their homes. Sure, they'll be working for one-third the wage, but they will be collecting unemployment and getting a paycheck while looking for new jobs.

Shamas' characters switch personalities wildly from scene to scene, and the actors are unable to keep them from appearing schizophrenic. Kouri plays Daubney first as an intelligent yuppie, then as a dimwitted ultra-conservative. As Reece, the brains of the operation, K.J. Middlebrooks fluctuates from geek to hipster. Melba (Andi Matheny) transitions from tramp to concerned mother. Once the plan is hatched, the following scenes are merely a slow-paced buildup to the phone call between the fired employees and their old boss Selena (Margot Foley). And while the call is a funny 10-minute segment, the absurd climax erases its positive impact. This cast has talent. If Shamas had developed her script beyond a clever idea and the direction were stronger, Re-Sourcing could have been a real source of fun.

"Re-sourcing," presented by MAPALA Productions at the NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Oct. 15-Nov. 21. $18-20. (310) 285-9467.

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