STAGE REVIEW : Hollywood Spoof Sinks Under Silliness

Anyone paying attention to the smaller-theater scene this time last year had to be heartened by all the good work going on. A wave of intelligence and energy splashed across town; with such good news, the death of Waiver wouldn't mean much.

A year later, and a wave of the sillies has come down upon us. Even a usually reliable group like L.A. Theatre Unit, which has produced such work as "Andrea's Got Two Boyfriends" and "The White Death," has come up with some silly antics posing as a play, "Tiger Treadwell Takes Tinseltown."

To be sure, Steve Itkin's production at the new but user-unfriendly Ventura Court Theatre certainly doesn't serve John Susman's Hollywood spoof very well. The only way to save Susman's string of ludicrous comic scenes and plot points is to play it over the top--but with style. Itkin's style is like a badly drawn cartoon, with the ham-fisted support of David Andrade's slide projections and Marc I. Rosenthal's lights.

We won't reveal Susman's narrative trick that begins and ends the Tinseltown conquest of Tiger (Karl Wiedergott), but it plays on Edward G. Robinson prison movies and "The Wizard of Oz." Tiger's rapid rise to the top--imagine a rock 'n' roll Sammy Glick, fond of dining at Morton's--involves an agent who plays tennis with his phone headset on (David Wells), an ex-hooker (Laura Summer) and two Arab money men (Daniel Mahar and Charles Dayton).

In the early stages, Susman's ear isn't so out of whack that we can't accept his show-biz cliches. And for admirers of Howard Korder's brilliant comic thriller of movie- and dream-making ambition, "Search and Destroy," Susman's "Tiger" has some pleasing echoes.

It all goes downhill frighteningly fast. Tiger wants to make a teen-age-alien love story. Dayton's Amir loves it, but sees it as a sailing picture (he has this thing for boats). Yet the financing Arab country wants the flick shot entirely within its borders. Solution: Build a huge lake in the desert.

Someone should have stopped things right there, when this comedy goes over the side into pure dumb nonsense. More business with slave-labor on location, and distribution deals, and Cannes yacht parties, and so on, fill out the rest of the play. But that's all it is: filler. Susman's people are vacuously low-calorie.

Another cast--perhaps the Actors' Gang--might be able to turn this into a bold cartoon. But only Wells has enough of a quirky personal touch to turn his character into more than a familiar stereotype. Tiger, at least, isn't a stereotype, but Wiedergott brings nothing original to a part wide open to a creative actor's impulses.

At 12417 Ventura Court, Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., until March 25. Tickets: $12-$14; (213) 466-1767.

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