'The Apple Tree' in Long Beach / Revival of 'Career' in Studio City / 'Mary Sunshine' at Basehart Playhouse / 'Alchemist' at Globe Playhouse

Fans of the musical-writing team of Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock had a good year in 1987. First, two major revivals of "She Loves Me." Then, a production of Bock's and Harnick's 1966 trilogy of one-acts, "The Apple Tree," at Long Beach Studio Theatre. "The Apple Tree" has been extended through March 5, and it's delightful.

Bock and Harnick adapted three stories that illustrate the price paid for knowledge: Mark Twain's "The Diary of Adam and Eve," Frank R. Stockton's "The Lady or the Tiger?" and Jules Feiffer's "Passionella." (Jerome Coopersmith wrote "additional book material.")

In the first, Eve's enterprise gets her and Adam kicked out of Eden. But the two of them learn to adjust. Bock's tunes are lovely, Harnick's words are delicately witty (listen to the lullaby, "Go to Sleep, Whatever You Are"), and the book treats its big themes with a lighthearted touch that seldom descends into silliness.

"The Lady or the Tiger?" never rises above silliness--but its silliness is a blast. Set in a semi-barbaric kingdom a long time ago, it's the story of Princess Barbara (accent on the second syllable), who can either send her lover to his death or into the arms of another woman, depending on whether she shares her secret with him. Bock and Harnick attack this slice of camp with gusto.

"Passionella" is a parable about a chimney sweep turned glamorous movie star, who finally plays a chimney sweep in a movie--to demonstrate that she's "for real." The tale has a '50s/'60s flavor, but it will remain apt and amusing as long as fashions come and go.

The same three actors play the major roles in all three acts, with Lucy Daggett doing the most stretching as Eve, Barbara and Ella/Passionella. It's an amazing tour de force, and Daggett takes every twist and turn of her roles with ease.

F. Thom Spadaro brings a rumpled common-man look and a sterling voice to the roles of Adam, the Balladeer (in "Lady") and the Narrator (of "Passionella"). Morgan Mackay slides through his Snake role in "Diary," becomes the anguished lover in "Lady," and concludes with a hilarious turn as a sneering rock star in "Passionella." Daggett and Mackay played the same roles at the same theater in 1973, when they must have been mere babes.

Costumer Ryk Del Campo really knows his browns (a running gag in the show), and he had a field day with fur in "Lady," which also provides the chorus line with the opportunity to indulge in the tackiness of Terry Barto's choreography. Robert Sternberg's lighting is helpful, and Laurence Daggett directed with a keen eye for detail, though he overlooked a few blocked sight lines in "Diary."

Musical director Marjorie Poe makes a couple of keyboards sound more than adequate, though fanciers of the cast album may miss the bigger orchestra. But a bigger band might mean a bigger theater, and "The Apple Tree" shouldn't grow too much. Its proportions are just about right at the Studio.

Performances are at 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., through March 5, with Sunday shows at 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 17 and 24 and Feb. 28. Tickets: $9-$10; (213) 494-1616.


Gregory Bach's revival of James Lee's "Career," an absorbing chronicle of a New York actor's lifelong struggle to make a living, is an interesting case study of good and bad design.

Doug Green's sound design, including his original music, is superb. It highlights the text at just the right moments, imparting a sense of urgency to an oft-told tale. It's especially vital, considering the soft-spoken acting on display here. Without the sound track, these actors might fade fast; with it, their camera-ready understating seems hushed and breathless.

Bach added evocative period music to the blackouts between scenes, but those blackouts go on far too long. Blame Jeff Klarin's set design. The basic set--a subway station--is too specific and inappropriate; only a couple of scenes occur in subway stations. The locales could have been more quickly delineated with a simpler set and increased reliance on Brian Faul's imaginative lighting.

The actors achieve notable verisimilitude, once you adjust to their low-keyed manner. They include Patrick Neil Quinn, Lee Rhodes, Margaret Conway, Debora Babos and--in the lead--John Revell, whose looks don't quite span the entire time frame of the play.

Performances of this South City production are at the Chamber Theatre, 3759 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Studio City, Fridays through Sundays at 8 p.m., through Jan. 31. Tickets: $10; (818) 990-9270.

'Little Mary Sunshine'

The new Richard Basehart Playhouse is taking up the theatrical banner in the west San Fernando Valley that was recently given up by the Megaw. But the choice of "Little Mary Sunshine" as the opening show doesn't bode well.

Was Rick Besoyan's 1959 off-Broadway hit a parody or was it a latter-day example of old-fashioned operetta? Whatever, neither the comedy nor the music holds up well today.

In the title role, Marnie Mosiman plays it straight (or else she lacks the comic flair that Eileen Brennan must have brought to the original production). But Bruce Winant's slightly off-center face belies his stalwart vocalizing and comes closer to comedy. Not close enough, though; this is a long sit.

For the record: The program states that director Cynthia Baer Wynant "began her producer/director career with the original New York production of 'Little Mary Sunshine.' " In fact, the cast album lists her as one of three "presenters" but credits Ray Harrison for the staging and choreography and Besoyan for the "book direction."

Performances are at 21028-B Victory Blvd., Woodland Hills, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets: $12.50-$15; (213) 465-0070.

'The Alchemist'

Any director who braves Ben Jonson's "The Alchemist" without resorting to massive musical updating, which is how the play has been treated in Los Angeles in recent years, had better be something of an alchemist himself. Mark Ringer, directing for the Shakespeare Society at the severely under-heated Globe Playhouse, hasn't found the secret formula.

The play's swindlers deal in a medium of exchange--the mystic art of alchemy--that's so obscure to modern audiences (and actors) that the already difficult Elizabethan language becomes even harder to wade through, without benefit of footnotes. Furthermore, all that repetitive duping becomes draining, despite the best efforts of a few of the actors playing the victims (Eddie Frierson, Jon Mullich) to illustrate the different degrees of being gulled, and despite the skilled many-faced play-acting of Tom Ashworth as Face, the primary rascal.

Performances are at 1107 N. Kings Road, Thursdays through Sundays at 8 p.m., through Jan. 30. Tickets: $10.50-$12.50; (213) 654-5623.

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