'Advice to Players' at the Shepard; 'Very Nearly Pinter' and 'Marmots' at Actors Alley; 'Kathe Kollwitz' in Ocean Park; 'The Eye of the Beholder' at Flight; 'Perpetual Care' at Cast

South African playwright Bruce Bonafede's drama "Advice to Players," in its L.A. premiere at the Richmond Shepard Theatre, is a compelling anti-apartheid drama, flavorfully acted by Lanyard Williams and Charles Anderson under the rigorous direction of Lonnie Stevens.

The play is not set in South Africa, though. The scene is a theater stage in the United States. Two touring South African actors are rehearsing a scene from "Waiting for Godot" with an American festival director when a civil rights demonstration outside the theater forces the actors to make a terrible decision.

Based on an incident in 1981 when South African actors John Kani and Winston Ntshona canceled a stage appearance in Baltimore, "Advice to Players" is about the rape of art from unlikely quarters--liberals.

A white American civil rights group (characterized by Gretchen Glen's chilly zeal) tells the actors they must not perform because their tour is sanctioned by the South African government. At the same time a black underground South African Council (represented by the ethnic-costumed Elizabeth Blandon) also urges the actors to shut down.

Caught between the political left and right, their careers at home in jeopardy if they knuckle to the pressure, the actors initially laugh off their absurd predicament. But joking banter turns from dismay to anger as the vise around them tightens.

Stevens' direction and the native vocal accents of Williams and Anderson underscore a promising debut by this new company known as Chaus Productions.

At 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 7:30 p.m. through May 14. Tickets: $9-$15. (213) 466-1767.

'Very Nearly Pinter' and 'Marmots'

The experimental arm of Actors Alley Repertory Theatre is staging delicious spoofs of playwrights Harold Pinter and David Mamet.

These parodies are rich because they are forged out of love for their burlesqued subjects. The randy dialogue of Seattle playwright Maximilian Bocek amusingly catches the rhythms of the targets. And the acting style helps turn these one-acts into self-contained pieces that are fun even if you've never seen a Pinter or Mamet play.

"Very Nearly Pinter," directed by Robin Share, centers on the birthday party of a dazed literary giant (John Bryant). The action echoes several Pinter plays with characters that also smack of Joe Orton nastiness (check out the roughhouse stranger played by Terry Evans and the ambiguous wife suggestively played by Rebecca Brooke).

The Mamet number, "Marmots," helmed by Jon Rome, rises out of a medley of Mamet plays. Two profane and sleazy ad agency guys (joyfully played by Brian Paul Fornesi and Tony Burton) land a sable account from a boutique owner (the spirited Brenda Issacs). A dim copywriter who can't write (Rob Muir) adds to the mirthful squalor.

At 4334 Van Nuys Blvd., Mondays through Wednesdays, 8 p.m., through May 24. Free (donations accepted). (818) 986-2278.

'Kathe Kollwitz: A Dangerous Act'

Kathe Kollwitz (1867-1945) was the great German expressionist whose sculpture, prints and paintings caught a despairing people in the grip of injustice and war. A social radical ahead of her time, her work banished by the fascists, she was a remarkable figure. But this new play at the Church in Ocean Park, Santa Monica, fails to render the requisite sorrows and triumph of Kollwitz.

Playwright Dena Saxer and director Mimi Mekler pour love instead of danger into the production. There's no propulsion.

Ironically, ambitious artistic devices undermine dramatic momentum. Masks, choreographic movement, music and vignettes strive to animate Kollwitz's life and work. But the seams show.

One problem is that this is really a chamber piece forced to fill the huge venue of a hall. Lighting inadequately picks up the seven characters in the maw of playing space, although the semi-theater-in-the-round seating provides strong sight lines.

As Kollwitz, Winship Cook is rather bloodless, a touch too perfect a mother and too cheerful an artist. The family portraits are album-like, notwithstanding the war deaths of two sons (David Burns and D.C. Douglas). Rodney Oakes' score and Francesca Passeri's period costumes are vivid assets.

At 235 Hill St., Santa Monica, Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m., with June 3 performance replaced on June 4. Ends June 4. A benefit for the homeless tonight, 8 p.m. (213) 466-1767.

'Eye of the Beholder' and 'Suppressed Desire'

Another play about art, the farcical, incisive "The Eye of the Beholder" at the Flight Theatre, hilariously escalates into a war between two painters who represent intuition (Leigh Kilton) and calculation (Kay Kramer).

Playwright Kent Broadhurst's wit, director Jay Marcus' pell-mell pace, and the actresses' clever paintbrush combat pit artistic impulse against academic technique. It's a quicksilver work, embellished by the painters' live model (Kristin Hahn). (The play was originally written for male actors.)

Unfortunately, under the umbrella title "Bat Sh!t Crazy," it's bracketed with the dreary "Suppressed Desire." Playwright Montgomery Carlo and director Horatio S. Reiseng here deal also with artistic rivalry--an acting rehearsal featuring the dour John Money and the flamboyant Meredith Scott Lynn. The grinding ordeal defeats the actors.

At 6742 Santa Monica Blvd., tonight 8 p.m., Saturday, 7 and 10 p.m., ends Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets: $8. 'Perpetual Care'

Heliogabalus has opened its season at the Cast with a surreal comedy, "Perpetual Care," that looks and tastes like a squishy tomato left in the fridge too long.

The key prop is a saggy living room couch. This overripe Southern California family fantasy/nightmare is notable for some outrageous and funny scenes, particularly one in which a teen baby-sitter with an aggressive body (Eugenia Ives) falls into orgasmic seizures when she sees pictures of beautiful sports cars.

But playwright Michael Farkash's bizarre confection lacks point, focus and coherence. Imagine the Flintstones in a two-bedroom stucco in Bellflower.

Co-directors Hank Quinlan and R.K. Aitch are working in the tradition of vaudeville--not successfully. Michael Collins' bathrobed slob of an inadequate father and Gill Gayle's self-absorbed son are joined by Sharron Shayne's cartoony, loopy mother figure. At least her character is huggable.

At 800 N. El Centro Ave., Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 7 p.m., through May 21. Tickets: $12-$15. (213) 462-0265.

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