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‘THE LAST CLASS’ IS FIRST-CLASS SATIRE

College was never like “The Last Class"--but then again, Rick Lenz’s one-man filibuster at Room for Theater is a sight more entertaining than your average lecture. This first in the company’s “Room For New Plays” series is a sort of yuppie version of “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You,” an extended classroom diatribe guaranteed to keep you in your seats after the bell rings.

A blackboard and podium provide the necessary institutional setting. The subject is ostensibly “the dynamics and philosophy of creativity,” but it’s merely the forum for Lenz, armed with a gargantuan pitcher of martinis, to expound on subjects as wide-ranging as cupcakes and Buddhism as he relates events leading to his firing after a scandalous expulsion from a faculty tea.

There’s a wickedly clever satire of academia at work here (at one point Lenz recounts his failed attempt to challenge a despised dean to a duel--"anal retentive cliches at 10 paces”), but Lenz has more on his mind than mere satire. At heart, “Last Class” is a touching portrait of a man “who always wanted to be an original thinker but never was,” a drunken journey of self-discovery charted with wit and humanity.

All of which would mean very little were it not for Lenz’s own, innate good nature as a performer. It’s easy to see in him that renegade professor we all remember from collegiate days, and director Michael Norrell makes the identification complete, skillfully guiding Lenz on a journey to the heart of upwardly mobile darkness that scores high marks for this “Last Class.”

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The lesson at 12745 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City begins Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 p.m., indefinitely (818) 509-0459.

‘THE SILVER DOLLAR’

The Deja Vu Coffeehouse presentation of “The Silver Dollar” is the best thing to pass through this variable venue in many a season. The feeling begins almost from the moment you walk in the door to find the house’s normally cramped confines transformed into an utterly convincing replica of a real, live East Los Angeles bar.

Set during the August, 1970, Chicano moratorium on Vietnam that ended in the controversial, accidental death of Los Angeles Times reporter Ruben Salazar, “Silver Dollar” presents an account of that turbulent era as seen through the eyes of a “swell bunch of Chicanos” who frequented the bar where Salazar died. Providing the catalyst is Robert (Ruben Garfias), a disillusioned veteran trying to rid himself of the Mexican half of his heritage.

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Despite a certain unavoidably dated quality to the material, “Silver Dollar” is ridden with flashes of raw power by Alejandro Nandyelli and forcefully directed by Rosemary Soto. It has an immediacy that makes it impossible to remain uninvolved (the close-up, almost participatory seating helps). This is the sort of agit-prop theater that used to be the hallmark of El Teatro Campesino and it is performed here with much of that illustrious company’s skill.

A good cast lends considerable credibility. Garfias brings home the Latino identity crisis with often frighteningly intense conviction, and he is well matched by Tomas Goros as a proud, Spanish-speaking migrant. Josie Divincenzo registers strongly as a macho’s reluctant mistress, and Ted McAndrew is brutally effective as Garfias’ racist drill sergeant. Only director Soto herself as a solicitous barmaid dulls the luster of this otherwise untarnished “Silver Dollar.”

Performances at 1705 N. Kenmore Ave. run Wednesdays and Thursdays indefinitely (213) 666-0434).

‘CONFLUENCE’

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One acts don’t come any better than John Bishop’s “Confluence” and “Cabin 12.” Bishop, dramaturg and resident playwright at New York’s Circle Repertory Theater (where these two works were originally presented in 1978) writes with an uncommon regard and compassion for human failings.

His sensitivities have been matched in this Company of Angels production by those of director William Maynard, a set designer in his third directorial outing.

This is particularly true of “Cabin 12,” a poignant account of an estranged father and son’s journey to make funeral preparations for another son killed in an automobile accident. Maynard draws extraordinarily insightful performances out of Paul Michaels (as the father) and Art LaFleur (as the son), lending near tragic dimensions to their inability to communicate. Their shared pain, which slowly transforms itself back into love, seems nothing less than the real thing.

A similar mood pervades “Confluence,” which concerns the inability of an aging athlete (Lee DeBroux) to accept the impending departure of his much younger actress girlfriend (Sara Bartlett). There’s a touching tentativeness to DeBroux and Bartlett’s playing that quietly underscores the irony of the play’s title, and Harvey Vernon lends a note of pure, unadulterated cantankerousness as the retired Hall of Fame ballplayer who helps DeBroux cope with his loss.

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If, in the end “Confluence” proves less moving than “Cabin 12,” it’s due largely to the earlier play’s more whimsical conception, too well enhanced by Maynard’s deliberately artificial setting. His cheap-motel design for “Cabin 12,” on the other hand, is just right. Both plays caringly are lit by Glenn L. Hendricks and backgrounded by Richard Freer with sound patterns that add immeasurably to their real-life naturalism.

Performances at 5846 Waring Ave. run Tuesdays through Thursdays at 8 p.m., through April 3 (213) 464-9674).

‘SOLITAIRE’

If Bishop’s one acts are distinguished by their sensitive handling, Robert Anderson’s “Solitaire/Double Solitaire” at the Group Repertory in Burbank too often are dealt a false hand by director Ron Recasner.

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Linking the two plays is the theme of love in a loveless society. The first, set in the bleak, indeterminate future, concerns the effort of a man, isolated in a claustrophobic “service cell,” to recapture something of the family life made disposable by technology. The second piece, set in the present, chronicles the not dissimilar efforts of a romance writer trying desperately to hold on to the passion that has faded from his marriage.

The theme is a familiar one for Anderson, perhaps best known for his account of an older woman-younger man relationship, “Tea and Sympathy” and it is realized in effectingly human terms by Wayne Powers as the man of the future and Robert Curtin as his modern-day counterpart. But Recasner’s arch, unbelievably static staging tends to drain their efforts of much emotional power, letting significance dissipate in a million pregnant pauses.

The card game at 10900 Burbank Blvd. begins Fridays through Sundays at 8 p.m., through March 15, (818) 769-7529.


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