STAGE REVIEW : Two David Kranes One-Acts at Friends Theatre

If one can draw any conclusions about a playwright's take on life from viewing only two of his one-acts, then it's safe to say that David Kranes thinks that the people most deserving of our attention are those who don't stand still.

Young, willful Gayle in "Montana" and the taciturn but secretly ambitious Douglas in "Audience" are willing to make unlikely, gigantic leaps into the unknown from lives of staid predictability.

That shared spirit is why pairing the plays under the title "States of Mind," at Friends and Artists Theatre, makes sense. They echo and strengthen each other.

That isn't to say, though, that this is strong theater. It is precisely Gayle's and Douglas' risk-taking that is often so missing from Kranes' writing. He confuses poetry with good dramatic writing. In the seeming effort to write a familiar scene in a new way--Gayle's attempt to persuade New York designer Amelia Silk to take her to Gotham, for instance--it ends up being familiar and long-winded. Kranes doesn't need passion, but he does need an editor.

What makes you keep listening to Kranes are the surprises he tosses in. Gayle's mother, we're told, passed on a Berkeley schooling and has ended up as an all-purpose mechanic in remotest Montana. She exists outside our preconceptions and is just the kind of mother who would have reared a free spirit like Gayle.

We want much more from her, though, than Kranes gives us; in turn, Michael David Simms' direction and Sharonlee McLean's performance are surface work, as are Kerry Remsen's Gayle and Holly Butler's Amelia. This is not a production ahead of its audience's expectations, and it should be.

Bill Bumiller's staging of "Audience" comes closer to the kind of dynamic Kranes desires. The trick is not getting bogged down in details--such as how Greg Thirloway's Douglas, an upper-class brat, can possibly be a credible candidate for country-Western stardom. Somehow, Douglas' glib, disingenuous manager (a funny Paul Eisenhauer) sold superstar Hank on him (a deft Simms, switching to actor). And we buy it when Douglas loosens up with Hank enough to admit that he thinks he is a no-talent.

Again, what saves the play and production from mediocrity are the surprises: Douglas really has a fine voice, and Hank, seemingly an over-the-hill Nashville idol fixated on football, is an effective mentor. But even more than "Montana," "Audience" arrives at its conclusion in a sloppily protracted way.

At 1761 N. Vermont Ave., on Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 2 and 7 p.m., through July 23. Tickets: $12.50; (213) 653-1008.

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