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KAUFMAN’S ‘20s MOGULS IN ‘BUTTER AND EGG MAN’

A truism: Hollywood moguls nowadays don’t make movies, they make deals. Anyone who believes this to be a new phenomenon--or one that applies only to Hollywood--should take a look at “The Butter and Egg Man,” George S. Kaufman’s 1925 satire of Broadway hot shots, at Room for Theatre.

The title refers to a wealthy investor, preferably a gullible rube--someone like Peter Jones (Danny Hart), who’s just in from Chillicothe with inheritance in hand. Joe Lehman (Milt Oberman) and Jack McClure (Peter Heuchling), who want to produce a dubious property called “Her Lesson,” lick their lips over a high-cholesterol prospect like Peter. But Peter is smarter than they imagined--although he isn’t quite as smart as he winds up thinking he is.

Kaufman’s plot goes through a series of backflips that should prove irresistible to anyone who ever had anything to do with putting on a show, and Val Mayer’s staging keeps things humming.

Even when he’s outwitting the big boys, Hart maintains a likable green streak. Oberman, on the other hand, appears to have been born with cigar in mouth, and Heuchling is a well-matched sidekick. Elaine Hill, Maggie Macdonald, Morgan Lofting and Jeanine Jackson play a succession of ‘20s women, dressed to the nines by Dolores Mann, and John Moskal Jr. contributes a funny turn as a hayseed who makes Peter look like David Merrick.

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Performances are at 12745 Ventura Blvd., Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 4:30 p.m., through Nov. 30; (818) 509-0459.

‘SONATA FOR RIMBAUD’

David Abbott’s solo performance piece, “Sonata for Rimbaud,” uses the French poet primarily for inspiration, not as subject. It’s a smart choice--the farther Abbott strays from Rimbaud’s biography, the better his act becomes.

The highlight is a vivid passage about life as a parking valet. Rimbaud certainly never worked at such a job, yet Abbott describes it with the sort of jagged, defiant imagery that the poetic prodigy of the 1870s might have written, had he lived a century later. The result is funny and then unsettling, particularly as Abbott’s focus expands to include one of his fellow valets, an Iranian emigre.

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Abbott’s performance style is feverishly intense throughout. While it’s appropriate for the presumably autobiographical material, it’s somewhat overwrought when he reads about Rimbaud from a book or--at the end--when he repeatedly shouts the poet’s name.

His gyrations might seem more apt with a different selection of Rimbaud material. The show’s longest single quoted passage is a whiny letter about the aging Rimbaud’s varicose veins (even though he died at 37). It might lead one to wonder what all the fuss was about.

Performances are held in Theatre/Theater’s Backstage, 1713 Cahuenga Blvd., Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m., through Dec. 4; (213) 850-6941. ‘THE TEMPEST’

The lovers are finally betrothed in “The Tempest,” and Prospero asks Ariel to entertain them. At this point in Louis Fantasia’s staging at Theatre 40, Ariel turns on an old-fashioned movie projector and Charlie Chaplin, in a wooing mood, appears on a screen.

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It makes sense, for Fantasia’s production is set in the mid-'30s on “an uninhabited island somewhere between Italy and Tunis.” In such a place, the movies certainly would have been “such stuff as dreams are made on,” to quote Prospero.

The substitution of Chaplin for Ceres may eliminate the original wedding masque’s references to nature, but it evokes an even stronger sense of wonder and harmony for audiences in the mid-'30s--or the mid-'80s. And it makes the scene more accessible; no one in the audience will want to refer to footnotes in order to understand it.

Unfortunately this was Fantasia’s only brainstorm in an otherwise lackluster “Tempest.” Caliban’s calypso number doesn’t work. The casting of women as Trinculo, Adrian and Francisco does no damage, but doesn’t add much either. Prospero (Arthur Roberts) is muffled; Antonio (Ben Wilson) is mealy-mouthed and far too young for the role.

Cecile Metivier’s fascist-era costumes support Fantasia’s concept, but her airy-fairy outfit for Ariel (an awfully somber Allan Kolman) looks ridiculous. Erica Zaffarano’s set, a thicket of bespangled planks dangling in front of a dirty blue backdrop, serves only to clutter the small stage.

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Performances are at 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills, Thursdays through Sundays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., through Nov. 23; (213) 465-0070. ‘AN INTELLIGENT MACHINE’

The computerese is thick and impenetrable during the first act of “The Zen of an Intelligent Machine” at Theatre Rapport. A glossary would come in handy for those of us who aren’t up on the latest jargon from the Silicon Valley, where the play is set. (Last Friday it also would have been helpful if someone had turned down the music emanating from one of the theater’s neighbors.)

Then again, perhaps the language is purposely opaque. Without a shared vocabulary, we’re likelier to suspend disbelief in this contemporary Frankenstein story. Maybe research in artificial intelligence has gone farther than we realize; maybe it was all explained in the first act’s gobbledygook.

Anyway, we soon get the drift. A computer mogul (James Willett), working in the garage of his estate, constructs a “Friend” (Loren Fitzgerald), who is intentionally beyond the control of his creator. “Friend,” with his “unhampered innocence,” will supposedly lead us into a brave new world.

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Writer William Kuhns devised a few clever twists for his tale, but they don’t add up to much on a stage. “Friend” looks artificial enough (makeup by Dotty Louis), yet Fitzgerald’s performance is on the level of a child’s impersonation of a robot (who later inexplicably acquires an English accent).

Nor do we detect in Willett the glow of a genius consumed by a vision. Under Edward Ludlum’s direction, the talk ambles listlessly through three acts, seldom coming to much of a head. Ramzi D. Seikaly’s synthesizer doodlings are intrusive cliches.

Performances are at 1277 N. Wilton Place, Fridays through Sundays at 8 p.m. through Nov. 16; (213) 464-2662.


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