Although "The Day They Shot John Lennon," at Orange Coast College, is intermittently amusing and does contain an occasional spark of insight, it, like Lennon's "Nowhere Man," knows not where it's going to.

Actually, James McLure's play is set the day after the event, as a diverse group of familiar types loiter on the street corner opposite the Dakota apartment building in Manhattan, where Lennon and his wife and young son lived and where he was slain on Dec. 8, 1980. It begins by presenting the reactions of the various characters, who include a pretentiously intellectual legal secretary, an on-the-make advertising exec, a sociopathic Vietnam veteran, a retired Jewish vaudevillian, three high school students and others.

McLure obviously is trying to create a cross-section of society. But to what purpose? One often feels inundated by waves of pseudo-profundity as the characters use Lennon's death as a point of departure for their psychological and social comments. The play oscillates between sanctifying and trivializing the event, groping for a context that might put Lennon's impact on a generation into perspective.

Director John Ferzacca's approach is so non-judgmental that the play never takes a point of view, and it is so unsentimental that the characters don't become anything beyond cold and rather verbose social commentators. From his mostly youthful cast, Ferzacca has drawn several mannered performances marked by well-timed pauses and carefully modulated intonation. The effect is of a rather hip "Spoon River Anthology"--one that doesn't allow the audience to get close enough to feel the emotion in the script. The play finds the most resonance in the most natural performances: Eric D. Scott plays the vet's brain-fried buddy with effective conviction, Tony Garcia has an off-the-cuff charm as a Latino street kid and Mark Salamon brings comic flair to the most off-center of the high schoolers.

David Scaglione designed the simple and realistic setting.

"The Day They Shot John Lennon" continues through Sunday at the Orange Coast College Drama Lab, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa. For information, call (714) 432-5880.

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