Times Theater Writer

Listen, Shweetheart.

Go sneak a peek around the corner at the Cast-at-the-Circle--Waring and El Centro, downtown Hollyweird. Wanna know what's there? Scar Tissue.

Not an it but a she.

Remember her in "Intrigue at Ah-Pah"? That private eye in white suspenders who behaved suspiciously like Bogart (with a touch of Bacall) and went after Fish and (other) Game up in Humboldt County? Well, she's back--snorting coke now and a lot more rumpled, but still on the warpath, still gulping down the liquor and putting out those Luckies in the palm of her hand. This time she's on "The Road Not Taken," doing a hatchet job on the lumber industry.

This new Dell'Arte Players spoof of the Raymond Chandler genre--second to be directed by Jael Weisman and written by the company in what one hopes will be a Scar Tissue series--puts these latter-day proponents of modern Commedia right back on track. Again, with the thinnest of scripts, some mechanical toys, musical punctuation (Tony Heimer), a handful of actors (roughly 4 1/2) and a shameless taste for puns, they juggle an audience and more than 12 characters with almost equal dexterity.

It takes only moments for Scar (Joan Schirle), nursing a revoked license, to come up to her old investigatricks when she stumbles onto a plot by Carson Timber to denude the Northwest. And it's not just trees they're cutting down.

The "Road" in question is illicit, covertly being built by the logging company for access to protected high country that it would dearly love to plunder. But have no fear, Scar Tissue's here. One murder into the story, and you know she's ripe for wiping up a few more.

The cast of characters includes corporate dowagers in wheelchairs, lawyer sons with "staying power" (I warned you about the puns), devious paving contractors, a bartender named Sam, a reclusive Vietnam vet who speaks in '70s jargon, ever-smiling forest rangers, bear skins and Boy Scouts--particularly one named Woody.

No, you don't have to believe the plot. (You're better off not trying to.) It's part spoof, part comic strip, features cocaine, bears, guns and booze in about equal measure, and is redeemed primarily by its love of wacky double entendre.

As usual with this company, it's the visual gags that bear watching.

They come in two styles. One mode is comic-strip/technological, including such cliffhangers as car chases, helicopter crashes and an aerial battle between an Evil Jeep and a Big Yellow Chrysler. (The set, which includes a miniature forest, is by Ivan Hess; special effects are by Donald Forrest.)

The other mode is pratfall/physical, something these Dell'Artists from Blue Lake do best. The witty bodily clashes--including a literal application of "burying the hatchet"--are smartly choreographed, even if they were a bit rough around the edges Saturday. They can only get stronger.

There are not many companies in the country that uphold the original meaning of the word ensemble. The Dell'Arte Players is one of them. Everyone in it does virtually everything--from writing to acting to set design, teaching and administration. This makes for strength is some areas, weakness in others.

Artistically, the Players have had their ups and downs, sometimes indulging in strange and/or questionable taste, sometimes getting hopelessly tangled in improbable plots. (They won't win any writing awards.) But when they're hot, they're hot.

They sizzled with "Intrigue at Ah-Pah" seen at the Odyssey five years ago. With "The Road Not Taken," the temperature is only a few degrees cooler. Scar is their best invention and "Road" is subtitled "A Scar Tissue Mystery," which suggests more is to come.

How about a partner for Scar? Name him--or her--Scare Tactics and who knows? With these clowns, anything could develop.


A Scar Tissue Mystery presented by the Dell'Arte Players at the Cast-at-the-Circle, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hollywood (213-462-0265). Writers Michael Fields, Donald Forrest, Joan Schirle, Jael Weisman. Director Weisman. Music Tony Heimer. Set Ivan Hess. Lighting Michael Foster. Costumes Nancy Betts. Special effects Forrest. With Todd Bruse, Michael Fields, Forrest, Joan Mankin, Schirle.

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