Goofiness Is a Bad Side of the 'Street'

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

One thing can be said about the Huntington Beach Playhouse's "Division Street": It certainly reflects the patriotic fervor of these last few months.

At the close of this production of Steve Tesich's comedy, a huge American flag unfurls onstage, and the cast, forming its own faded rainbow coalition of oddballs and losers, belts out a song celebrating the country. It implores the audience to join in.

Maybe demand is a better word. At the performance I attended, everybody was prodded to stand and sing out, whether you felt like it or not. These days, you may feel disloyal if you don't share in the whoop-it-up patriotism currently in vogue.

Of course, Tesich's play has always been a flag-waver. The last scene, when a disenchanted and aging former student radical agrees to fight again to make the world better, is suppose to remind us of how great democracy can be. At Huntington Beach, though, director Gregory Cohen massages the point too vigorously.

Cohen pushes too hard with the humor in "Division Street" as well. Tesich's comedy has a cloyingly goofy side that will never completely disappear, but Cohen's blatant staging and his cast's over-the-top performances inflate this flaw to huge proportions.

At the play's center is Chris, the once-idealistic revolutionary who used to march with the likes of Eldridge Cleaver and Tom Hayden but now would rather disappear in his tiny apartment. Greg Garlich shows us Chris' annoyance with all the irritating people who keep bugging him to get involved without getting too annoying himself.

Just about everybody else, though, seems intent on outdoing each other with loud, antic performances.

'DIVISION STREET'

A Huntington Beach Playhouse production of Steve Tesich's comedy. Directed by Gregory Cohen. With Greg Garlich, Jennifer Johnson, Rick Paap, Philip Weitzman, Carla Cohen, Michael David, Holiday Freeman and Daryl Mendelson. Set by Gregory Cohen. Lighting by D. Erich Marse. Sound by Melissa Lanning. Plays Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. with a 2 p.m. show Sunday. Through June 8 at 21141 Strathmoor Lane, Huntington Beach. Tickets: $6 to $8. (714) 832-1405.

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