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Andi Matheny Acts Up at West Coast Ensemble

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It is no longer enough to put on an act. What writer-director-performer Andi Matheny’s alter-ego, also named Andi, doesn’t know is what extras to throw in. What Matheny knows is that a real act, in our postmodern era, has to be about putting on an act.

That is what “Andi’s Act,” at West Coast Ensemble in Hollywood, actually amounts to, after you’ve thought back on it. While you’re watching Matheny’s show, everything appears to be off-the-wall. Andi’s opening act and her sidewomen, the Nutrasweets, both flake out. Audience members keep interrupting her. A reluctant trio of temporary workers (dubbed “The Tempettes”), pressed into service to replace the Nutrasweets, ask for frequent breaks.

But there’s something in Andi that makes her persevere--perhaps it’s her ambition to be on “Star Search.” Andi, of course, never knows when she’s hitting or missing, though she may have doubts when she stumbles into the curtain during her Elvis number. Matheny (with her surprise-filled cast) steers through it all with Midwestern charm, which anchors an act that celebrates innocence while noting that you can be on the wrong side of the Hollywood tracks.

“Andi’s Act,” West Coast Ensemble, 6240 Hollywood Blvd., Mondays-Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Ends April 9. $8; (213) 964-3685. Running time: 1 hour.

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‘Four Legs Good’ Should Be Meatier

Can the daughter of a Canadian meat industry tycoon and the son of a radical vegetarian anti-vivisectionist marry and find true happiness in Buffalo? Happiness in Buffalo may be an oxymoron, but that doesn’t get in the way of Jack Breschard and Patrick Snyder’s farce “Four Legs Good,” at Theatre East in Studio City.

What does get in the way is a crucially nagging question: Why, oh why hasn’t the nine-month pregnant Patty (Adrienne Hampton, burdened with ditzy comic turns) told husband-to-be Frank (a hapless Bob Kent) about their parents’ profound differences in all the time they’ve been together?

A major problem, since the farce hinges on Patty not telling Frank or his mom (Nancy Parsons, glowingly Earth Mother-like). When her carnivorous dad (a dead-on Jay Gerber) shows up for supper, the pork chops come down.

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This is enough for a farce, if you like your farce dumb. But it’s not enough for Breschard and Snyder, who add an awkward, Act II subplot involving dozens of drugged rabbits and one miffed French-Canadian lab scientist (Susan O’Sullivan, whose accent is out of a Jerry Lewis movie).

A funny, bloody climax will leave only ultra-deep ecologists unamused--but they’re the butt of many of the jokes anyway. And even when the jokes aren’t always zinging, director Breschard and designer Dan McFeeley fill the house with mother’s amusingly cacophonous critters.

“Four Legs Good,” Theatre East, 12655 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends March 24. Free; (818) 760-4160. Running time: 2 hours.

‘Sycamore Tree’: Of Ants and Men

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Samuel (“Kiss Me Kate”) Spewack’s wonderful idea for his “Under the Sycamore Tree,” at the Crossley Theatre in Hollywood, was to imagine what goes on inside the royal inner sanctum of an ant colony. It’s the kind of child-like, storybook notion that’s naturally theatrical.

That is, if the childlike isn’t confused with the childish. Spewack’s strained, incessant attempts to use the ant hierarchy as a metaphor for human folly (especially of the scientific and political kind) and director Gus Corrado’s unwillingness to curb his cast’s grating, loud attack on the material combine to crush this nice idea like a flower under a boot.

The conceit is that the Queen (Rebecca Hayes), under the spell of the court scientist (Mark Henderson), permits a social experiment in humanizing the colony. They advance so far that, in the midst of a war of mutually assured destruction (each colony has a huge can of DDT), a way beyond war is found. Quick: Get in touch with Bush.

“Sycamore” goes so over the top that the scientist actually takes a meeting with the Prez. None of this is as charming as the show presumes--certainly not as charming as Henderson’s playful underground set, which would be even more playful if Russell Pyle’s lights weren’t so bright.

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“Under the Sycamore Tree,” Crossley Theatre, 1760 N. Gower Ave., Hollywood, Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Ends April 7. $10; (213) 964-3586. Running time: 2 hours.

‘Curator of Orchids’ Wilts in Los Feliz

The theater scene is awash in one-person shows. While Mark McNease’s “Curator of Orchids,” at Friends and Artists Theatre in Los Feliz, clearly hopes to be a bit different--this is a fiction, not a biography--it only stresses how near death the form is.

Once again, there’s the Motivation Problem: Since the character is alone, what prompts him to talk? McNease’s solution is a sorry one. George (Michael Berry), who tends to an orchid display in his apartment that is open to the public, greets a stranger (invisible to our eyes), has him sit in a chair, then launches into his melancholy life story.

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It’s never clear that the stranger wants to hear every detail of George’s dysfunctional kin, and neither McNease’s bathos-accented text nor Berry’s mousy portrayal (under Rick Rose’s direction) distract us from the hobbled narrative device. More than anything else, George never constitutes anything larger than what we see, which is a sad little man trapped in his own agoraphobia.

“Curator of Orchids,” Friends and Artists Theatre, 1761 N. Vermont Ave., Saturdays-Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Ends April 7. $8; (213) 664-0689. Running time: 1 hour.

Wolpe’s ‘Vincent’ a Pallid Portrait

For an even purer form of wallowing in self-pity, though, few one-person plays in memory match David Wolpe’s pallid “Sincerely Yours, Vincent,” at Stages. Wolpe casts such reverence upon the radical, self-destructive Dutch visionary, and actor Bryan Rasmussen is so limited in his emotional range, that the resulting portrait under John Walcutt’s direction is more like a poor replaying of moments from “Lust for Life” than any kind of meaningful interpretation.

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Wolpe, credited as adapter and editor, used the famed Vincent and Theo correspondence as a primary source. More dramatically useful would have been the brief, tempestuous collaboration between Van Gogh and Gauguin. To view Van Gogh as a solitary man is to re-state the obvious. But to transfer Van Gogh’s work--always small in dimension--into huge slide projections (by Kat Dragon) is to distort the painting and overwhelm Rasmussen’s efforts.

“Sincerely Yours, Vincent,” Stages, 1540 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends April 27. $8; (213) 466-1767. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.


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