STAGE REVIEWS : Liddi Tackles Multiple Plays, or Vice Versa

TIMES THEATER WRITER

Allison Liddi is a busy director. Perhaps too busy.

Last year she delivered an award-winning "Cloud Nine" at the West Coast Ensemble. This year she is into quadruple-headers. Her current productions of "The Disposal" at the Zephyr Theatre, and "Tujunga Tanzi" as part of Occidental College's ongoing Summer Theater Festival, opened within a week of each other.

They were only briefly preceded by a one-act Liddi staged in Ventura (Richard Stayton's "After the First Death"), and she has been in rehearsal all along with Laura Shamas' "Telling Time," at West Coast Ensemble--an Open Festival entry postponed once and now scheduled to begin Aug. 24.

Such an ambitious agenda seems to be Liddi's meat. According to a program note, she did a fair amount of simultaneous directing last year as well. It clearly didn't hurt her "Cloud Nine," but is it such a good idea in the long run?

Not judging from some current results. "The Disposal," one of William Inge's most florid and disposable plays, gets an over-earnest incarnation at the Zephyr. And Claire Luckham's early-'80s "Tanzi," a splendidly physical and literal spoof of life as a wrestling match, misses the mark by miles.

Whether these shows suffer from Liddi's trying to be in four places at once or whether they're shows for which she lacks affinity (or the right cast) is speculation, but the former is at least likely to have interfered with the process.

Inge's "Disposal" (later reworked as "The Last Pad") is maudlin and awkward. It focuses on Jess (Frank Beddor), a Death Row inmate whose date with the electric chair has arrived.

Jess, for reasons he can't explain, has strangled his pregnant wife. He is waiting for a letter or a visit from his father. Keeping vigil with him on his last day are Archie (Nigel Gibbs), a gay fellow inmate, and Luke (Dan Leegant), drab and married and visited by a self-righteous wife (Ellen Crawford) who dispenses indigestible cant.

Jess's father (Adrian Drake) eventually shows up, though the visit is less than Jess had imagined. Drake is serviceable as the father and so is Benjamin Gates Jr. as a sober-sided guard. But, except for Gibbs, who has the most flamboyant lines, Liddi's cast (including Joseph Fidelibus as a well-meaning chaplain) is labored rather than intense, with Beddor strident and straining when he should be moving. This is a shallow production that bounces off the surfaces of a problem play.

With "Tanzi," where shallowness should be bouncing off the sides of the Keck Theatre's wrestling ring (along with whoops and Bronx cheers), it's suddenly not there. This is as demure a production as you're likely to find of this gaudy-bawdy merriment that started in the pubs of Liverpool and had a glorious whack at Los Angeles in 1983 and '84.

Liddi's cast is simply not at ease with rowdiness. Carol Flanders (Tanzi) and Andrew Philpot (her vain and philandering husband, Dean Rebel) have the general idea. They give the show what pizazz it musters. But this "Tanzi" has no pulse, let alone throb. You could drive trucks through its pows and its pauses. The good time is perpetually forced (ask referee Robert Budaska, in charge of the forcing) and the show is scuttled by unpersuasive wrestling choreography.

This grounds "Tanzi," preventing it from escalating into a real contest--something on which its climactic rounds depend.

No contest, no climax, no fun. Not even popcorn and pretzels at the half. Time to haul out the hot dogs and beer. And time perhaps for Liddi to try one play at a time.

"The Disposal" plays at 7465 Melrose Ave. in Hollywood, Thursdays through Sundays, 8 p.m. , through Sept. 2. $14-$16 . Information: (213) 466-1767 or 653-4667.

"Tujunga Tanzi" continues at the Keck Theatre on the Occidental College campus, 1600 Campus Road in Eagle Rock, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday, Aug. 21, 23, 26, 28-29, 31 and Sept. 2, 8:30 p.m. $10-$15. Information: (213) 259-2772).

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