Trules' 'Down . . . But Not Out' at Theatre/Theater; 'Ginger Ale' at Cast; 'My Mother's Body' at Callboard; 'Met My Match' at Theatre of Arts

The tall guy with a grin, wearing a blue working man's shirt and five o'clock shadow, appears to be in a jail cell. There are bars painted on the window and a real wash basin.

He starts talking about faces. "I have an ugly face," he says in a sinuous voice. There's a blackout and he's a fantasy cowboy looking for Gabby Hayes. Later, among 16 personality changes, he's a clerk, a bounder, a killer, he's "waiting for God, waiting for Godot, waiting for one day to run into the next in a crazy quilt of warm reds and razor- cold blues."

Welcome to poet/actor Eric Trules whose one-man performance piece, "Down . . . But Not Out," at Theatre/Theater, is at once disarming and mesmerizing. We are in the prison of his mind and, much of the time, also our own id. Trules, who developed this work at Pipeline's Boyd St. Theater, is a dancer from Chicago who's been directing theater and videos in L.A.

In his live debut here, co-directed by Ed Couppee and Charles G. Davis, he turns his vivid writing into crafted acting pieces that are dark/comic lacerations building to the cosmic. Whatever a poet's theater is "Down . . . But Not Out" is close.

These are not mere sketches; they reverberate with grit. In one moment, yearning for a certain woman, Trules feels "the pressure of sex weighing on me like a heavy scent . . . choose me, Baby." Another psyche (all his characterizations come down to the same person), becomes a vampire, a "lone wolf (who) would like to pant my rancid breath into your perfumed faces."

Chameleon-like, Trules is an original.

Performances run at 1713 Cahuenga Blvd., 8 p.m., Sundays only, through May 29. Tickets: $7.50. (213) 281-3091.

'Ginger Ale Afternoon'

Playwright/director Gina Wendkos can't slow down. In her fifth theatrical foray in recent months, she has written and directed a new play, the first of a pair dealing with pregnancy.

Wendkos' dramatic signature--the verve with which she portrays embattled women of the '80s--is scaled down here but the ripeness of character and dialogue remains strong. The two-character, hour-long one-act "Ginger Ale Afternoon," at the Cast Theater, is like Bonnie getting pregnant by Clyde. To make matters worse, marriage doldrums have set in.

Jesse and Hank (Dana Anderson and John M. Jackson) are Southern hillbilly types who have nothing except each other--and a baby eight months on the way. They personify that popular song from the Depression, "I Can't Give You Anything But Love." Except the husband is a festering wound, jealous and unready for fatherhood.

Actress Anderson isn't made to look pregnant with any pillow or stuffing. She is pregnant (expecting June 1). In the production's most sublime touch, she reclines under a hot sun on a chaise lounge, her dome-like naked belly anchored like a balloon. This image is charming/funny because it's taken for granted by the characters and, after a giggle, also by the audience.

The actors create down-home portraits. Anderson is like some five-and-dime character asking for ginger ale in her whiney voice. And she can melt you with a patch of wisdom, too. Concludes the wife to her immature husband: "This baby is gonna give you power, Hank, not take nothin' away." (Wendkos' second play on pregnancy, set in an abortion clinic, "Gang of Girls," opens at the Cast June 1.)

Performances run at 804 N. El Centro Ave., Tuedays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m., through May 25. Tickets: $8. (213) 462-0265.

'Over My Dead Mother's Body' at Callboard

Ambitiously cast and produced, "Over My Dead Mother's Body" at the Callboard is a semi-autobiographical family affair, a dramatic comedy tinged in gray. Ultimately, you praise parts, not the whole.

Playwright/co-star Lynne Adams' dramatization of her own theatrical family suffers a meandering first act and a spectrum of colors so scattered they blur the focus and tone of the work. The several plots--sibling rivalry, a sister's wobbling marriage, the other sister's effort to prop up their free-spirited, widowed dad--never quite coalesce.

The acting is flavorful and the scenic design (by D. Martyn Bookwalter) sports a richly detailed New York loft complete with push button doors to a lift.

The stars are well known actresses and real life sisters, Brooke and Lynne Adams. With some dramatic license, they enact a true incident in their family history. Their clashing characters are sharply differentiated as they meet to go through their late mother's things while trying to comfort their colorful father.

In a rare stage appearance, Leo Penn (the veteran film and television director) delivers warm, featured support as a visionary character inspired by that father.

Two supporting characters deserve special mention. Jeff Kober has little dialogue but his engrossing quietude as a steady and firm husband results in the show's best single performance.

Finally, the little girl in the play who runs, even skates, through the loft (Jandi Swanson) is directed much too cutely by director Robert Burgos. The character could and should simply be cut.

Performances are at 8451 Melrose Place, Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 7 p.m., through May 22. Tickets: $14-$16. (213) 466-1767.

'Met My Match'

If lesbian drama hasn't joined theater's mainstream, it has recorded enough gains in the last few years to throw into relief the appearance of mediocrity.

The seven-character "Met My Match" enjoys some funny dialogue and capable-to-solid acting (especially from the voracious Holgie Forrester, the credibly dramatic Melissa Dingwell and the delightfully dim-headed Lori Huber). But the play is numbingly insubstantial, a problem exacerbated by Melinda McLain's low-key staging.

L. S. Elliot's comedy about the coming out of a young woman who thought she was straight (Rose Marcario) drew wall-to-wall laughs at the performance reviewed at Theater of Arts.

It is a mark of how novel lesbian comedy is that such uneventful romantic material can be popular. If the plot had featured gay males, let alone a heterosexual variation, the romance would be too inane to merit attention at all.

That's the rub. Lesbian theater can be successfully lighthearted on the subject of character identity crises (like "Waiting for the Beep" at the Fifth Estate), but it doesn't have the luxury to be dumb.

Performances are at 4128 Wilshire Blvd., Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 3 p.m., through May 8. Tickets: $12. (213) 466-1767.

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