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A folkloric image from ancient Persia, the djinn, or genie, is familiar in Scheherazade's Arabian Nights tales and from TV's I Dream of Jeannie. Peter Atkins' new rock 'n' roll horror mystery, however, is conjured from depths of the human psyche and presents a much less congenial creature, a djinn so chillingly diabolical that, though appropriate to herald Halloween, you'd be wise to leave the kiddies at home.

Atkins, young and demonstrably gifted, could be an emerging playwright to get excited about. He knows his way around the English language, has composed music with the right rock 'n' roll beat, and writes exceptional lyrics. He and Kate McLaughlin share directorial credits. A lobby display of Kat Ward's extraordinarily handsome photographic portraits, accompanied by Atkins' intriguing capsule biographies, promises theatrical delights. Surprise, surprise! This display of the cast in intriguing disguise has nothing to do with what's onstage. In the genre of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Bat Boy, and Reefer Madness, The Djinn gets tangled in its convoluted skeins; its between-scene lapses with nothing doing are frequent, and, worse, it never finds its distinctive, essential rhythm. Keener directorial focus is needed to unleash The Djinn's power and exciting potential.

But it has its moments: the ghastly chorus line of white-faced actors in raffish, dusty-musty costumes; the English music-hall capers of mean-spirited, jolly-looking, Chaplin-esque song-and-dance men Mr. Sponge and Mr. Scrotum (well-played by women, Dana Middleton and McLaughlin, who deliver dialogue in voices too high-pitched and shrill), and red-haired Elizabeth Romaine as a vaguely menacing professor of Arabic lore. Most impressive is clean-cut, wholesome-looking Kevin Matthew Gregg's evil djinn (aka Demarest), who wreaks unspeakable havoc with the devil's own charm, sings an ironic love song in a rich baritone, and moves like Elvis.

Jennifer Phinney as threatened leading lady Alex must match wits with the inhuman "Prince of Dark Dominions, older than time," who has "trod the wings of angels beneath his conquering feet." By golly, she does it, and through inspired use of her mandated three wishes she sends the evildoer back to encapsulation in his fire opal. Let's hope he stays there. Let's hope it's prophetic.

Others who serve are Jon Davis, Rick Lee, Randy Schulman, David Tushla, Delcie Adams, and Andrew Wenzlaff. Excellent music comes from Atkins on guitar, Wenzlaff on bass, and Davis on percussion. Lighting/tech director Frederick Wenzlaff had something to do with the dreamlike background projections, as did Julianna Parr.

If Atkins, Ward, and company ever put on that show promised by their lobby display, I want to be there.

"The Djinn," presented by Stages Theatre Center and the Collective at Stages Theatre Center, 1540 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m. Oct. 12-Nov. 17. $20. (323) 610-6853.

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