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O.C. THEATER REVIEW : ‘Laura’ OK After Awaking : With her charm and vitality, Lynn Laguna, as ‘the girl,’ rescues the Golden West College play from a tedium that nearly ruins the first act.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

“Laura,” by Vera Caspary and George Sklar, is best known as a 1943 movie starring Gene Tierney. However, according to the program notes of the Golden West College Summer Mystery Festival production, it started life as a stage script that could find no backers, became a novel, then a movie, and ultimately found its way back to the theater.

In its current incarnation in Huntington Beach, the script holds up well, although it’s sometimes repetitive and long-winded, exposed as it is by the drab and heavy-handed direction of Charles Mitchell. The story, part murder mystery and part romance, revolves around the captivating title character and her admirers, one of whom is a murderer.

The orchestration of the scenes is tediously slow, especially in the first act, where the characters seem to have no pointed business except to wait around for the story to get on with itself. The tone is deadly serious. And deadly is an apt adjective for the tempo of Act I. Fortunately, Lynn Laguna, as the “girl,” joins the assembly just before intermission, and matters improve dramatically.

Laguna is charming, graceful and lovely to look at. These attributes, aside from being necessary for the role, are the lifeblood of this production. She brings vitality to her part and to the proceedings in general.

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As Laura’s mentor and self-appointed protector, Waldo Lydecker, Rollo Sternaman has a wonderful look (abetted by Donna Mae Dickens’ exceptional costuming), and a condescending air, which constitutes the entirety of his cartoonish characterization. Stephen F. Silva makes a dapper Scotch-swigging detective, though his passion for the heroine is more schoolboyish than hard-boiled, and he makes nothing of the tortuous conflict of interest that an infatuation for the victim would be to an inspector investigating the crime.

Ken Mattson has some fine moments as a young suitor, but Gary Wos, as Laura’s fiance, is awkward and stiff, with an indefinable accent.

The set is well-appointed by David P. Falzon, and the sound design includes some mood-setting crooning by Sinatra. Some interest is created by the lottery in which the audience is asked to guess the identity of the killer. But nothing really compensates for director Mitchell’s inattentive eyes and ears.

A short piece called “Mr. Snoop Is Murdered,” being offered as a pre-show entertainment before performances of Laura, is also directed by Mitchell. On opening night it was rough going for “Mr. Snoop,” which suffered from numerous line botches and no sense of tempo.

Set by the director in the present, it seems to spring more from an amorphous past when gossip columnists had radio programs and ex-cons were guilty only of cute malapropisms. The performances are unfocused, humorless and boring. The script sounds suited to life as a radio play and gains nothing from this three-dimensional staging. ‘Laura’

A Golden West College Summer Mystery Festival production of the play by Vera Caspary and George Sklar. Directed by Charles Mitchell. Scenic design by David P. Falzon. Lighting design by Leslie Barry. Sound design by David Edwards. Costume design by Donna Mae Dickens. With Stephen F. Silva, Ken Mattson, Rollo Sternaman, Gary Wos, Lorry Partridge, Patty DeBaun, Lisa Klubniken, Lynn Laguna and Gregory Hoffman. Continues July 6, 7, 13, 14, 16, 18 and 19 at 8:30 p.m. at the Outdoor Patio Theater at Golden West College, 15744 Golden West St., Huntington Beach. Tickets: $6 and $7 in advance, $8 and $9 at the door. “Mr. Snoop Is Murdered” plays at 7:30 p.m. before performances of “Laura.” Admission is free with a ticket to “Laura”; otherwise, admission is $2. Information: (714) 895-8378.


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