RUNNING AMOK IN 'B.J. LANG PRESENTS'

We've seen what happens when the mad scientist runs amok. What happens when the mad film director loses his tether? Yabo Yablonsky's "B.J. Lang Presents" posits that our director (Richmond Shepard as Lang) might keep his prize actress, Carlotta (Amy Kolb), captive in his decrepit loft and force her to perform Roxanne opposite his Cyrano.

Lest we should think that Lang (or Yablonsky) is confusing theater with cinema, this frenetic Svengali gallops around his loft setting up camera angles, shouting directions to his cinematographer and chumming up with movie buddies or money men.

The fellow is obviously mad because (a) the camera is full of cobwebs and doesn't work, and (b) everyone, save Carlotta, tied by her feet and wrists to a wheelchair, is invisible. So it appears that we're in for either a weird journey into psychotic voyeurism, like Michael Powell's "Peeping Tom," or a study of how sexual fascism murders artistry, like John Fowles' "The Collector." Or some combination of the above.

But while "B.J. Lang Presents" provides echoes of past looks at creativity and madness, it only derives and has no special insights of its own. The audience begins to share Carlotta's pain at incarceration after it's clear that Yablonsky's characters are not going anywhere. Is the message that a life lived in fantasy is a dangerous thing the best that Yablonsky could do with this situation?

Susan Lane's set, oozing with bric-a-brac and a sad decadence (accented by David Carlton's superbly inventive lights), suggests a far riskier, more frightening play. It evokes Lang's mind more richly than Shepard's portrayal, loaded with schtick but light on character under Yablonsky's direction. Kolb fails, crucially, to grab our sympathy and run with it.

Performances at the Richmond Shepard Studio Theatre, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Thursdays through Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends Jan. 31; (213) 462-9399.

'FULL CIRCLE'

With his only play, "Full Circle," Erich Maria Remarque set out to prove a hypothesis: Push the extremes of the left wing and the right wing enough, and they'll come together, indistinguishable from each other. Alas, what "Full Circle" really proves is that geometrical equations do not make a play. It reaffirms the suspicion that if the playwright grounds the work in conception rather than human behavior, all that results is warped human behavior.

Would, for example, a German Gestapo Group Leader (Sean McGuirk) spend precious minutes interrogating an unlikely-looking escapee suspect (Gregory Mortensen) while Russian bombs are falling on Berlin? Why wouldn't Anna (Daphne Ashbrook) just boot Mortensen out of her apartment in the first place? With so many neighbors, impostors and various armies marching in and out of it, Anna's place comically becomes a domestic replacement for the Alexanderplatz.

As colleague Lawrence Christon reported in these pages Nov. 26, director Louis Fantasia took over the reins just days before the opening at the Matrix Theatre. The actors seem settled into their parts now, though Mortensen's Rohde is not deeply felt and Ashbrook is simply too contemporary. McGuirk projects plenty of cool and calculation but not enough of a sense of threat. John Durbin's Jewish escapee truly haunts the mind, while Ken Neumeyer's Russian Captain (interestingly, none of the Russians are given names) is truly inept.

Performances at 7657 Melrose Ave., Wednesdays through Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends Jan. 11; (213) 852-1445.

'SEE HOW THEY RUN'

If you think farce means a lot of people acting crazy and running in and out of doors, then Philip King's brand of farce in "See How They Run," at Theatre 40, will be just your cup of tea. If, on the other hand, you believe that farce should have something more substantial than Kool Aid coursing though its veins, beware.

It seems that the local vicar (Kevin Bash) and his liberal American wife (Carol King) are expecting their bishop uncle (Emile Hamaty) to arrive tomorrow. Only he arrives tonight. So does her long-lost acting pal from the States (J. David Krassner). So does a Soviet prisoner on the lam (what is this business with nameless Russians? He is listed in the program as "The Intruder"). Toss in a village prude (June Claman) and a few bangs on the vicar's head, and, presto, a comedy. Of sorts.

Solid comedy shouldn't have us wondering why King is married to such a dullard, nor why Hamaty, supposedly King's father, bears no resemblance to her, nor how those few bangs to the vicar's noggin turn him into such a raving lunatic. Farce is the sum of its parts, and the parts here are unsound.

Bruce Gray directs with a fine sense of timing and pace (and most of the accents are in order), but he's forced by the material into being more a traffic cop than a director of farceurs . The cast, especially Bash, King and Daamen J. Krall's Soviet prisoner, are competent though not incandescent. That quality belongs only to Jeffrey Winner, whose innocent reverend in the eye of the storm is British daftness incarnate.

Performances at 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills High School; Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 and 8 p.m. Ends Jan. 25; (213) 277-4221.

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