Teen-age alcoholism isn't a familiar subject on stage and certainly needs a voice. That voice attempts to be heard in Daniel Faraldo's "How Did It Feel . . .?" at the Gnu Theatre.
But as good as the texture of the play is, the directions it takes skirt this important theme. The main concern is the troubled relationship between Beth and Sergio. Beth's teen-age sister Maggie, just out of a sanitarium, is troubled and angry, stopping by for a few weeks before going home to Daddy. It's enough time for her to tear apart what's left of her sister's teetering menage.
Faraldo's dialogue is honest and revealing, the performances (Patricia Estrin and Antony Alda as the couple, Kelli Williams as Maggie) are strong, and Jeff Seymour's direction gives the action shape and color.
However, Faraldo seems more interested in Beth and Sergio than in Maggie's problem. Williams' gritty performance helps bring her to the forefront, but Maggie's condition is never really dealt with. Even the gratuitous last-minute exposure of a more widely covered problem doesn't answer the original question.
Seymour's set, a New York flat as sterile as Beth and Sergio's romance, provides an evocative frame, but a play this promising should pay more attention to where it's going.
At 10426 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Thursdays through Sundays, 8 p.m.; ends March 25. Tickets: $15-$20; (818) 508-5344.
'A Memory,' 'Action'
Two one-acts at the Court Theatre look at two sides of a theatrical coin.
The gold side of the coin is Arthur Miller's autobiographical "A Memory of Two Mondays," about two typical days at the auto-parts warehouse in Manhattan where he dreamed of college and a literary life. Under Mark Blanchard's direction, it still vibrates with the urgent tempo of the early '30s and is a vivid reminder that dreams belong to all periods. The production is rich in detail and its statement is still pertinent.
Ramon Estevez is a little bland as Bert, though he captures the naivete and optimism of the kid, but he's surrounded by a fine cast in which Harrison Young and Bob Larkin (impressive as old-timers) and Patricia Place stand out. The production is a little gem.
Sam Shepard's 1974 "Action" is the coin's tin side. Sal Landi knows his Shepard intimately, and his direction can't be faulted. Nor can the four actors who skate around on the thin ice of Shepard's non-representational Christmas dinner. But the play's assumed profundity seems shallow and its style dated.
The playwright's male chauvinism gives the performance advantage to the two men, Rustam Branaman as Jeep and Mark Blanchard as Shooter, and they capture Shepard's mood, as vaporous as it is. Valerie Swift and Bonnie Bishop have little to do as the women.
Shepard has written some powerful pieces, but "Action" doesn't age well. Its poetry is decorative rather than functional.
At 722 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood; Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; ends March 2. Tickets: $18; (213) 466-1767.
'Person I Was,' 'Women'
The highlight of this pair of one-acts at the Beverly Hills Playhouse is the opener, Cindy Lou Johnson's "The Person I Once Was." Director David Saint is on firm ground here, in an enchanting one-act about a Kentucky bag boy from the Piggly Wiggly who courts the younger of two sisters.
Rick Lawless is wonderful as Blaise de Francaux, the ardent suitor with a stranglehold on the future. He handles Johnson's crackling dialogue with honest and comic frenzy. Lynn Ann Leveridge is seen to advantage as the older sister, and Wendy Rhodes, as the object of Blaise's desire, has an engrossing quality that perfectly complements the Lawless energy.
Saint's surface treatment doesn't improve Jonathan Marc Sherman's "Women and Wallace." Sherman takes a decidedly juvenile approach in his semi-autobiographical sitcom about a boy whose mother's suicide (when he was 6) affects his relationships with women as he works his desperate way through adolescence.
Don Schneider's colorless performance as the Woody Allenish hero lacks comic ingenuity.
As one of the young girls who attempt to put up with Wallace, Patricia Zehentmayr has a firmer grasp on the style, but the estimable Ann Gee Byrd as his grandmother and Leveridge as his psychiatrist are wasted.
A different production of "Women and Wallace" will be on PBS' "American Playhouse" Wednesday.
At 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fridays through Sundays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.; ends Feb . 18. Tickets: $12-$15; (213) 466-1767.
'The Tangled Snarl'
John Rustan and Frank Semerano's campy spoof of 1940s hard-boiled detective yarns is, under Robert Stadd's relentlessly comic direction, relentlessly true to the subject it satirizes.
"The Tangled Snarl" races through every cliche attached to its genre with unguarded affection. As private eye Spuds Idaho, Lee Ryan careens around Daniel McFeeley's realistic, crummy office setting, ignoring the bullet in his belly, demeaning his adoring secretary (Saratoga Ballantine), the gorgeous shady lady who drops by for help (Lynn Lowry), the obnoxious newsboy (McFeeley) and Randall Carver as various nefarious types.
It's thin as tissue, but very funny, and they keep a straight face through it all. What control.
At 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood; Fridays and Saturdays, 10:30 p.m.; runs indefinitely. Tickets: $7.50; (213) 859-8757.
As a pageant of black history, "Voices" accomplishes its purpose. But this almost three-hour show at the Embassy Theatre is too shapeless to be the exciting piece of theater it attempts to be.
Vocally, the program is exceptional. The Fire Choir is a top-notch ensemble and the soloists outstanding, particularly B.J. Crosby as Harriet Tubman, Jess Bolero as Cab Calloway, and Windy Barnes as lead singer in "Oh Mary" and in an affecting re-creation of Billie Holiday.
Karen McDonald's choreography is less interesting, repetitive and not very inventive. However, the real problem is the shape of the production. It breaks itself off into bits and pieces and never comes together as a whole. Director Maurice Kitchen has a fine feel for the style of the moment but has trouble viewing the whole landscape of the evening in a single glance.
At 851 S. Grand Ave.; Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.; ends March 4. Tickets: $15-$22.50; (213) 731-6961 or (213) 734-1164.