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STAGE REVIEW : Comedy Takes Aim at the Temperamental Actor

“Jitters” is a comedy, all right, but it also feels like a playwright’s good-humored revenge on temperamental actors.

Playwright David French apparently has first-hand knowledge of actors’ foibles, and he puts them on parade in “Jitters.” French isn’t too mean about it, but he is insistent. Just about everybody in this near-farce is an actor (or former actor), and just about everybody is a little foolish.

They’re also self-absorbed, preeningly proud, amazingly insecure--and often funny, especially under Craig Fleming’s wide-open direction in the Laguna Playhouse production that runs through April 9 at the Moulton Theatre in Laguna Beach.

“Jitters” is not a great comedy--the last act seems to go on and on--but it’s not bad. Fleming works at giving the audience a good time.

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The plot revolves around rehearsals for a drama at a Canadian playhouse in need of a hit. The theater, known for its artistry but skimpy box office, brings together some of the country’s best actors, including the grand Jessica Logan (Katherine Rodecker).

Logan has even ventured to Broadway, which irks the respected but irascible Patrick Flanagan (George Woods), who has to assume second billing when she joins the party. But there’s more than just marquee-status friction at hand. At least Logan left the provincial safety of Canada to see whether she had the stuff. Flanagan’s too chicken, and that irks him.

Of course, they battle almost nonstop. Into this tempest-in-a-theater is tossed a band of stage folk including a neurotic character actor (Jeffrey Markle), a young first-timer (Rich Jackson), a martinet of a stage manager (Tony Crowell), an intense playwright (Dan Finn) and a fatherly director (Bob Kokol).

Fleming gets good performances from his cast, especially Woods in the pivotal role. This guy is all bluff and blather, and Woods makes him as windy as can be. Woods also gets us to see his nastiness without separating us from the character--not a minor accomplishment.

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Rodecker’s Logan is both strong and emotional, and Markle, as the character actor, Phil, plays it pretty big but is funny nonetheless. Rich Jackson brings an appropriately antic restlessness to the young actor; Kokol is a vision of exasperation, and Finn is broodingly distracted.

Steve Maddy’s set, of a set and the backstage dressing room, is more serviceable than special. Both D. Scott Linder’s lighting and Marthella Randall’s costumes fit the show.

‘JITTERS’

A Laguna Playhouse production of David French’s comedy. Directed by Craig Fleming. With George Woods, Katherine Rodecker, Jeffrey Markle, Bob Kokol, Dan Finn, Rich Jackson, Tony Crowell, Wendy Abas and Joan Lorenzen. Sets by Steve Maddy. Lighting by D. Scott Linder. Costumes by Marthella Randall. Sound by Jeffrey Markle. Plays through April 9. Show times: 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 2 and 9. Tickets: $11 to $13. At the Moulton Theatre, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. Information: (714) 494-8021.


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