Who knew Arthur Miller yearned to be Mickey Spillane? In his 1982 one-act, "Some Kind of Love Story," now at the Hayworth Theatre, the playwright serves up a dime novel plot complete with trench coats, bishop-tempting blonds and cops on the take. Somewhere outside of Boston, private eye Tom (Jack Kehler) pays a visit to Angie (Beege Barkette), nursing a fresh bruise and a case of the mean reds. Like all femme noires, she holds the clues not only to a murder investigation but also to the detective himself. Is the corruption to which she alludes endemic to the system or just Tom's inability to follow an inner compass?
Watching America's fiercest stage moralist play with hard-boiled conventions has its curious pleasures, including a few choice turns of phrase. ("The whole criminal justice system could be picked up by the tail like a dead rat.") But director Michael Arabian, who staged last year's raw, sweet revival of "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea," doesn't have a strong hold on the material, which, admittedly, is as erratic as Angie's apparent multiple personalities.
As the two players thrash around John Iacovelli's boudoir set, it's hard to tell if Miller is experimenting with tone -- "Love" veers from realism to risible melodrama -- or trying to say something larger about American corruption.
The throaty Barkette does what she can to make sense of an archetype and finds a way to inhabit Miller's two-dimensional terrain. But she seems mismatched with Kehler, whose wide-eyed stare and lack of inflection gives his performance an odd comic spin. In the end, Arabian's intrepid production can't solve the mystery of what Miller was after in this intriguing but uneven experiment.
"Some Kind of Love Story" The Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug 31. $20. (323) 960-4442. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.
Innovators in an uneasy team-up
Sex. Death. Clown. Seems like it's getting harder and harder to tell them apart these days, no?
Yet this tersely suggestive tagline is only the launching point for the many boundaries blurred in "Fables du Theatre," the latest salvo from Hollywood's Unknown Theater.
With this original work -- a trio of modern cautionary tales loosely adapted by Brenda Varda from themes in classic French literature -- the always-edgy company may have met its match in its highly touted teaming with Immanence Theatre Artists, a California-based avant-garde troupe that, despite reported run-ins with the law over past site-specific guerrilla performances (chronicled at www.immanencetheatreartists.com), remains even more unknown than the Unknowns.
This uneasy collaboration is a textbook illustration of possibilities and pitfalls at the creative edge; rather than a seamless union, it showcases artistic tensions between two very different theatrical approaches. Director Chris Covics and his Unknown performers attempt a relatively disciplined formal staging amid a striking visual design inspired by the apocalyptic paintings of local artist Edward Walton Wilcox. Immanance artistic director Marva Lewis, who appears as emcee and in various roles, presides over a more unruly group that seems ill at ease performing in traditional theater settings.
Surmounting opening night snafus through sheer intensity and commitment, the combined casts navigated a freewheeling, sometimes overreaching tour of archetypal "careful what you wish for" parables with contemporary resonance.
Where the Unknown and Immanence performers find common ground is in gleefully taking a wrecking ball to the fourth wall. Patrons arriving half an hour before curtain time may encounter cast members adrift in the lobby. Once the proper show gets underway, Lewis turns Varda's intricate script into a series of nested realities and violated expectations, more reminiscent of the late Andy Kaufman's performance art than a classically well-made play. Whether it stretches your imagination or drives you crazy will depend on your tolerance for chaos and indeterminacy. The less you take at face value here, the better. Especially here.
"Fables du Theatre," Unknown Theater, 1110 N. Seward St., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 6 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 27. $24, $18 advance. (323) 466-7781. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Sketchy attempt at bad-play satire
You have to give props to the Merry Art Player. Literally. Opening night of their season coincides with flu season, and 19 of the 23 cast members have succumbed. They're the lucky ones.
Will this calamity cancel the revival of a vintage home-invasion melodrama that merges "The Desperate Hours" and "Father Knows Best"? Ha! Though riddled with stage-frightened replacements, absent cues and misfired lights, the show must go on. Who will be standing by the final curtain is a shakier question.
That's the gist of "Suffer the Long Night," and a promising notion lurks beneath Greg Glienna and Mary Ruth Clarke's spoof of community theater cliches. Glienna's direction relies on fistfuls of confetti for snow and phones that ring after being picked up, not to mention intentionally tacky designs and pompous faux-program bios.
Accordingly, the tireless actors play their running gags and bad-acting goofs to the busted hilt. Pam Levin mixes aplomb and apoplexy as diva Meredith Lipschitz-Sinclair. Jeffrey Markle does yeoman work as her husband, a recovering alcoholic undone by real booze onstage. As the play-within-a-play's dad, grandmother and mustache-challenged detective, Jon Van Middlesworth earns the evening's Bob Balaban award. Stephanie Manglaras' rheumy ingénue, Kipleigh Brown's unlikely child and Glienna's monotone thug are among other notables in a daffy cast.
However, it's a fine line between pretend bad and downright lame. The script doesn't develop its backstage barbs in sync with the onstage meltdowns, which creates a slow deflation of uproar, less "Noises Off" or "Waiting for Guffman" than a Carol Burnett skit on steroids. "Suffer" may tickle travesty fans, but it's a sketch-weight premise in search of a satirical play.
David C. Nichols
"Suffer the Long Night," Meta Theatre, 7801 Melrose Ave., L.A. 8 p.m. Fridays through Sundays. Ends Sept. 14. $20. (323) 960-7745. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times