STAGE REVIEW : Core of Humor Wins Out in Laguna Playhouse's 'Tribute'

At the center of Laguna Playhouse's "Tribute" resides Scottie Templeton, a man without a single enemy, save, possibly, his son.

Templeton, a failed writer, producer, you name it, has succeeded in the less specific but no less worthy occupation of making friends. This middle-aged live wire has a talent for engendering instant infatuation, whether it's with the hookers he champions or the doctor who realizes he's dying of cancer. It's not as easy with his son Jud, a starchy kid who thinks dad's not much more than a glib failure.

The question lurking throughout Beranard Slade's 1978 comedy-drama is whether father and son can bridge the chasm that separates them before Scottie passes on. Sentimental stuff? Of course. Mawkish? Not really, at least not at the Laguna Playhouse.

Director Joan McGillis is aware that "Tribute" is dangerous--a few wrong turns and this show can veer into the land of mush, never to be seen again. But McGillis knows which way to steer, and she takes "Tribute" knowingly to its effervescent core of thoughtful humor about the important things in life. Sure, there are a few maudlin detours, but they aren't so frequent as to be oppressive.

Much of the production's disarming insouciance can be credited to Michael Miller. Miller's Scottie is (and there's really no better word to describe him) lovable, the kind of upbeat goofball you would invite along for a weekend binge. Miller seems to inhabit the character and take real pleasure in playing him--the joy is infectious.

There are times when Scottie does come across as too brave in accepting his impending death--Miller could have placed more emphasis on Scottie's struggle; after all, this is a character who really lives for a living--but the portrayal is so enjoyable overall, it's hard to fault it.

Scottie concedes that "as a father, I've been strictly a lounge act," a fact that has stuck in Jud's mind for years. Rich Jackson reveals Jud's anger in understated and measured ways, showing both his love and distrust of an idol who has let him down.

Jackson, however, wobbles some in communicating Jud's unbearably conservative side, which, more than anything, creates the gulf that separates them. The character needs to be less studious and more passionately right-wing for the conflict to click.

As just a few of Scottie's pals, Jacquie Moffett, Neal Visser, Lisa Picotte, Cindy Bollman and Karlene von Szeliski convey the wealth that comes from devoted friendship. Moffett's set grandly depicts the comfort of an opulent and expensive New York flat, but the image doesn't really gel. It's great looking, but too luxurious for a man whose successes are more personal than material.

'TRIBUTE' A Laguna Playhouse production of Bernard Slade's play. Directed by Joan McGillis. With Michael Miller, Rich Jackson, Neal Visser, Jacquie Moffett, Lisa Picotte, Karlene von Szeliski and Cindy Bollman. Sets by Jacquie Moffett. Lighting by Steven Wolff Craig. Costumes by Marthella Randall. Plays Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through Feb. 7 at 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. Tickets: $11 to $13. (714) 494-0743 and 494-8021.

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