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STAGE REVIEW : ‘Women’s War Daily’ at Ensemble: One-Act Plays Light on Answers

Times Theater Writer

The one-act play is tricky. Sometimes it has the one-two punch of brevity; sometimes--most of the time--it only opens up a subject, leaving the really tough questions to be answered after the curtain comes down.

In “Women’s War Daily,” a bill of two one-acts at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, both aspects of the form are true. Ara Watson’s “Bite the Hand” has the savvy and the juice of a fairly fleshed out piece; Michael Chieffo’s “Winning” suggests, more than it fulfills, its idea. Together, they constitute a pleasant but very light couple of hours’ entertainment.

Watson’s curtain-raiser is the more substantial of the two pieces. It’s a humorous and, under Casey Kramer’s direction, sharply executed look at two small-town prostitutes in the mid-1940s who go about taking charge of their lives in very different ways. And yet how different really?

Reba (Beth Grant), who is not getting any younger or a whole lot wiser, is ploughing right along at her dubious trade. April (Louise Baker), who, as her name indicates, is still in the prime of her not-very-prime life, is on her way out the door to get married. Suddenly Frank (Chieffo), an ex-client, shows up.

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We won’t tell tales out of school, but you can see the room for comedy and for thought. Watson has quite a few things to say about emerging womanhood in an inhospitable world through the clashing of these untimid small-time characters. She says it all with alacrity and skill. Grant, Baker and Chieffo create a nice aura of minor bedlam and confusion at the right level of fun and fluster to keep us interested and amused. But only for as long as it lasts.

The second play, written by Chieffo, is about every aspect of “Winning.” Two women have made a date to jog around the Hollywood reservoir. Bobbie (Beryl Jones) is black, bright, athletic and attractive. In short, a winner. Becky (Grant) is white, late, out of shape, out of sorts and out of it. Chieffo shows us how one woman helps the other--not necessarily the same one doing the helping at all times--and how, in the end, everybody wins. But the writing here is obvious and soft, even when the acting isn’t.

Jones lives up to every aspect of the character with pizazz to spare, while Grant, huffing and puffing all the way, paints a sympathetic portrait of an appealing (winning?) misfit desperately wanting to find happiness and a niche to call her own. With a little help from her friend.

Chieffo has staged his own play with pleasantly understated charm, but the piece is flimsy. While we admire Becky, we don’t really believe the about-face that she makes in less than an hour.

Gary Randall has provided two murals of stark trees against a streaked lavender sky that are a striking substitute for a set, symbiotically complemented by Kevin Mahan’s moody lighting. Randall adds a simple rectangular painted flat in the Watson piece to effectively (and inexpensively) suggest the entrance to a house.

Performances at 1089 N. Oxford Ave. in Hollywood run Wednesdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays 3 p.m., until Aug. 7; (213) 466-2916.


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