Susan Tyrrell's "My Rotten Life" suggests that as much as Julia ("You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again") Phillips may have seen in Hollywood, Tyrrell has seen a whole lot more. In gloriously decadent display at the Pink in Santa Monica, "My Rotten Life" devours everything in sight, including itself. It mocks poor-me plays. It pokes holes in the Phillips' school of spilling the dirt. It loves/hates Hollywood, almost pathologically. It questions what we expect from solo shows.
Early on, Tyrrell's actress character, now dead and waiting before the portals of hell with her equally dead poodle (the stuffed pet nicely off-sets Gregory Poe's inspired evening wear), wails, "I'd poison myself, but I'm too dead to do it." She's got it bad, so she sings/chants/intones about her past existence, a tale stringed with sex, frustration, sex, fear, sex, self-deprecation and, oh yes, sex.
On Jim Reva's Visconti-esque set and as directed by Rocky Schenck, "My Rotten Life" plays out like a booze-soaked, hallucinatory trip, stripped of any romantic illusions, somewhere between Kenneth Anger and "Sunset Boulevard." Tyrrell sings her lines, and wails her tunes like a voice beyond the grave (Frederick Myrow and Michael Andreas did the sophisticated score). This is eerie, unique vocalization that deliberately breaks the rules--crooning, but with a permanent case of PMS.
Is this Tyrrell's own life? (A nasty scene with a "grandfather" director could refer to John Huston, who directed Tyrrell in "Fat City.") It doesn't matter, because her alter-ego blasts herself along with everything else. In fact, by the time she's ready to pass through to the other side, she has become Hollywood--ridiculous, loud, fun, self-consuming, decayed, and too much of a joke to be sad.
* "My Rotten Life," the Pink, 2810 Main St., Santa Monica, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends June 15. $15; (213) 285-3189. Running time: 1 hour.
Pinter and Halliwell Paired at the Complex
Harold Pinter's somewhat snide "The Lover" and David Halliwell's funny if ultimately self-defeating experiment, "A Last Belch for the Great Auk," together under Ronald J. Cream's direction at the Complex in Hollywood, are really best for Anglophiles and connoisseurs of smart-aleck, linguistically-driven theater.
Which doesn't make them dismissable: Both works have a pair of intelligent actors who know the subtexts. In "The Lover," Jacqueline Stehr and Anthony Embeck play a perfectly civil couple, each of whom cheats on the other. In "Great Auk," Stehr is a bopping Carnaby Street-type model who discovers that Embeck's preoccupied ornithologist has occupied her flat while she's been out of town.
Pinter's marrieds gradually metamorphose into Pinter's lovers, leaving it open to the possibility that the marrieds are the lovers. Compared to the menacing grip of several of his other early '60s plays, "The Lover's" frolicsome air argues for viewing this as a metaphorical game to keep the matrimonial bonds interesting.
Halliwell plays games with time and structure, so that we see the model and birdman encounter, and re-encounter each other (the effect for today's audience is like watching a VCR stuck in rewind and fast forward). Stehr and Embeck play this with great relish, but reserve their passions for monologues justifying professions so trendy or arcane as to be meaningless.
* "The Lover" and "A Last Belch for the Great Auk," the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, Fridays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends June 2. $10; (213) 464-2124. Running time: 2 hours.
Big Daddy Antics at Groundlings Theatre
Rhino Records operates a serious record store and a record label that sometimes refuses to be taken seriously. Starting with that wild man, Freddie Blassie, Rhino acts have been notorious for their gimmicks. Now, Rhino has put one of its acts, Big Daddy, on stage at the Groundlings Theatre in Hollywood.
Big Daddy's gimmick? Encasing post-'50s hits in an absurd '50s rock 'n' roll time warp. But it's a double-gimmick, because the '50s shtick has a made-up history hatched by Harold Bronson, Richard Foos and Big Daddy's members (Marty Kaniger, Tom Lee, Bob Wayne, Don Raymond, John Hatton, Norman A. Norman, Bob Sandman and Damon DeGrignon).
Writer-director Ira Heffler's quaint dramatization takes our guys from a Dwight D. Eisenhower High School talent show to a USO tour in Asia where they're imprisoned by Laotian communists for 25 years, only to be freed and dropped into the middle of the '80s. Heffler is smart to give Hatton, the funniest actor in the bunch, most of the comic baggage. But once the guys get past scenes out of a so-so "Happy Days" episode and start wailing away after intermission (would you believe a doo-wop "Stairway to Heaven"?), they show they have the chops to match their novelty.
* "Big Daddy: Stranded in the Jungle," Groundlings Theatre, 7307 Melrose Ave., Hollywood, Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Ends June 26. $12; (213) 466-1767. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.
Confusion Reigns in 'Feast of Illusions'
The words are right there in Actors' Alley's program for its production of John Lisbon Wood's "Feast of Illusions": "Time: Sometime in the mid-1970s."
But based on his own evidence, Wood seems to be off by about a decade. He pits unreconstituted married radicals Sarah (Duchess Dale) and Richard (Matthew Clair) against yuppified old pal Wendy (Diane Sainte-Marie). It's the rudderless Left versus Reagan era-- not Ford era--go-goers.
The time confusion is symptomatic of larger confusions on Lisbon's and director Apollo Dukakis' parts. Richard lectures--hectors really--his university class in "Contemporary American Thought" as if his students were brain-dead materialists. But mid-'70s campuses were still bubbling with Richard's brand of politics.
Wendy has recovered from a breakdown she suffered at the hands of mentor Richard during an early '70s protest binge, gotten her degree and her doctorate (beating Richard to the post)--all, it seems, in just a few years. All of this would seem a little less incredible than it is were Dukakis' actors not orating in operatic excess (like Clair) or playing on the soap opera surface (like Sainte-Marie and Dale).
* "Feast of Illusions," Actors' Alley Theatre, 12135 Riverside Drive, North Hollywood, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sunday and June 9, 2 p.m. Ends June 15. $15; (818) 508-4200. Running time: 1 hour , 30 minutes.
Uneven One-Acts at Actors' Alley
Early in the week on the "Feast of Illusions" set, Actors' Alley is staging two one-acts--well, trying to stage them. Gene Dow's "Was It Trotsky?" shows in ludicrous cartoon strokes how three bourgeois train passengers (John Edwin Shaw, Shirin Amini and Gene Freedman) respond to a knife-wielding stranger (Terry Evans). Director Lenny Dorsky can't redeem this comedy built on sand.
Director Bill Shick just seems uninspired by Gail Baker's predictable "207, My Own Space." Baker, whose "Pin Curls" contained genuinely humorous charm, feels mired in TV reality-land here, where her aging heroine, Ruth (Leslie Simms), must fight her daughter (Jill Remez) and mental health officials in order to camp out at her husband's grave.
Ruth isn't eccentric enough by half to make her the magnetic character Baker wants her to be, though she is something more than the stock types around her--the sensitive nurse (Jill Jones), the selfish daughter, the officious doctor (Gary Byron).
* Actors' Alley One-Acts, Actors' Alley Theatre, 12135 Riverside Drive, North Hollywood, Mondays-Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Ends June 12. Free; (818) 508-4200. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.