On one level, Richard Venture's "Foxe's Run," at the Tracy Roberts Theatre, is just another terminal-illness drama. We're forced to witness TV executive Freddie Foxe's gradual death by brain tumor from a curiously distanced, unaffecting perspective--and for too long.
At the same time, Venture strives for the sentimental, especially in the numerous flashbacks or scenes in which letters to Freddie (holed up in an Oregon cabin to die in peace) come alive as his loved ones implore him to come back home. It's a split point of view that is never reconciled, and it stops the play in its tracks.
Yet there's an idea here worth building a play around. Freddie (Martin E. Brooks) isn't just coming out to Oregon from New York for a mindless escape. He's brought copies of Thoreau and Emerson along to help in his search for a spiritual Walden.
Venture has him run around the woods, ooh ing and aah ing at every rustling in the glen, beyond all good play-writing sense. Soon, however, we realize that Freddie is just doing his own transcendental foraging for the long winter of death.
The lesson he learns, piece by piece, is that the only way to relate to nature is to let nature take its course. The crucial Rubicon he faces is whether to leave the woods for the hospital. With the lessons behind him, he stays, becoming modestly heroic. Even here though, the listener cringes at some of the gratuitous metaphors Brooks must utter to Sandy Kenyon's bewildered but sympathetic friend.
The cast is only competent under Venture's direction, where it could be magnetic, especially in the cases of Brooks and Kenyon. Some aerobics nonsense with Freddie's girlfriend and the depiction of Freddie's wife as uncaring undercut the play's ambitions for humanity. Clifton R. Welch's set nicely makes us feel cabin fever.
Performances at 141 S. Robertson Blvd., Fridays through Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends March 30 (273-8702).
Even at its most rollicking--and it doesn't move quite that speedily at Actors Forum Theatre--Larry Gelbart's caustic "Sly Fox" is a wan adaptation of Jonson's "Volpone." Though the greed inherent in the setting of San Francisco after the Gold Rush serves this New World Volpone well, Gelbart never rises to the level of Jonson's devilish verse and actions. Nor does he take any inspiration from the legions of those Bay Area bastions, Bierce and Twain.
Instead, we get a swift-paced Mack Sennett sketch, and Shawn Michaels' production does nothing to alter that. There's no elegance in sight on Jim West's ultra-portable set, so we don't even get a real sense of Foxwell J. Sly's riches. His coveted trunk of jewels and gold is here, but looks a little fake. To do this right, you need a budget.
You also need a snide and sharp Sly, which Paul Napier realizes only intermittently. You absolutely must have a greasy, conniving Simon Able, Sly's loyal servant. Steve Ruggles delivers magnificently, projecting a boyish charm superimposed with a kind of pure decadence. Two performances that draw us in are David Wiley's Truckle, a witless pawn of Fox's ruses, and Gordon Ross' Judge, who comes off as a Ulysses S. Grant-had-he-never-made-it-in-politics.
Performances at 3365 1/2 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends March 30 (850-9016).
Playwright Whitney J. LeBlanc goes to greater lengths than he should to explain in the program that the driving force behind his play, "Dreams Deferred" at Burbank On-Stage Theatre, is Martin Luther King Jr. The play shows that. It also shows that it's been worked on since its original conception in 1972: The characters reach the precipice of sloganeering and back away. That's the sign--a good one--of rewrites.
But "Dreams Deferred" has a long way to go before it can be called a living King-era play. LeBlanc's tendency to have his people--whether it's Sue, a painter (Elizabeth Ludwick) or Al, the black kid she befriends (Todd Hollowell)--do the strangest things, only to make them explain their behavior later, raises more doubts that it erases.
A lot of business with an ex-clown (Panos Christi) who tells Sue and Al what's really behind the painted smile belongs in another show, and deflects energy from the drama's white-black tension.
The play follows the rising idealism of the civil rights marches to the crest of King's crusade to the assassination and street riots, with no uncomfortable breaks for historical overview. Sue's WASP Dad (Russ Hale) and Al's street pal (Julius Carry III) create a way for LeBlanc to look, fairly, at opposite worlds. Director LeBlanc hasn't handled his cast with the insight to bring us a true vision of reconciliation. But he sure can design a mean set, complete with a marvelous cityscape backdrop.
Performances at 139 N. Golden Mall, Burbank, Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m. Ends Saturday (924-3541).
Shakespeare has influenced a bevy of non-English-language playwrights. But seldom is the influence so pronounced as in Jean Anouilh's "Becket" at the Megaw.
The text is a densely observed account of the friendship and alienation of Thomas Becket (Brett Porter) and his king, Henry II (John Boyle). It trenchantly comments on the ways in which politics affects emotional commitments and loyalties. More than anything, this is a wonderful variation on the Prince Hal-Falstaff tale, with Becket as the man of ambition and Henry as the pure blood friend.
That's the text, however (translated by Lucienne Hill). Michael Fuller's ragged production is another thing. The actors appear to be quaking in their boots while on stage, visibly burdened with Anouilh's intellect and absolutely out of their element, which appears to be--without exception--TV.
The only break from this dull, wooden evening is a flag ceremony in which guardsmen inexplicably twirl and crash flags into each other for several minutes between scenes. Something is wrong at the Megaw.
Performances at 17601 Saticoy St., Northridge, Wednesdays through Saturdays, 8:30 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Ends April 13 (818) 881-8166.