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STAGE REVIEW : ‘Malibu Waitress’ Could Use a Few Tips : What is basically a one-woman show often manages to be funny despite weak material and awkward pacing.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For a few brief moments, “True Confessions of a Malibu Waitress” holds the promise of an authentic piece of offbeat theater not often seen in Orange County. And, at its best, this basically one-woman show lives up to its title with a smile-through-your-tears performance by Michelle Watkins, a likable actress who brings to her role a Bette Midler-ish touch.

But the material itself, presented in a sequence of blackouts, tends to peter out and could stand improvement by author Larry Michael Ham, who also puts in a minor appearance with an arch reading of a snotty writer-director that doesn’t help his cause. At worst, Watkins is required to do the impossible; that is, animate a series of monologues with too many inert lines on the order of “I am sushi, but there is no rice” or “My skin is like an albino scuba suit.”

Nevertheless, “True Confessions” has a funny, unpretentious setup. Watkins plays an actress who waits tables at the Asta La Feasta restaurant and spends the rest of her time looking, with no luck at all, for stage or screen work. She remembers, for instance, auditioning for the part of the dead body in the movie “River’s Edge.” Despite all her years of drama classes, she says, “I can’t even get the role of a corpse.” That is just one of her bittersweet revelations on this, the night of her 30th birthday.

We learn that she was born Margaret Miller in Longview, Tex., and that she has taken the name Raines Robbins for two of her favorite childhood memories: the rains of East Texas and the novel “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” by Tom Robbins. We also learn that she has been dating two men: Dave from Pepperdine University, a business major who is cute, practical and about “as spontaneous as a stoplight”; and Robbie, a macho type who moved into her place and enjoyed partying on her money until she kicked him out.

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As a waitress, Robbins naturally doesn’t make much money. In a little lesson complete with chart and crayon about the economics of the profession, she informs us that her basic salary is $127.50--"Not a bad wage if you live in Haiti"--and that tips are not only essential to her financial survival but also to her psychological well-being.

“A tip to a waitress,” she says, “is like applause to a performance.”

None of the economics comes as earth-shattering news, of course, but the scene plays better than her conversations at home with a telephone answering machine, which dominate this shoestring production. Answering machines by nature create dramatic dead spots on stage, and there is nothing any actress can do to salvage them. Nor can Watkins pump anything but maudlin life into the cliche of a cuddly stuffed clown, which is brought out of a closet to dance with her in the show’s closing moments.

Technically, “True Confessions” also suffers from lengthy costume changes behind a screen. They make awkward pauses and impede the pace of the show. With only 50 minutes of material in any case, the author might do better to boil “True Confessions” down to a half-hour stand-up that might work more effectively as a comedy-club routine.

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‘True Confessions of

a Malibu Waitress’

Written, produced and directed by Larry Michael Ham. With Michelle Watkins. Technical assistance by Dominique Sanda. At the Anaheim Cultural Arts Center, 931 N. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Sept. 28. Tickets: $7. Tickets: (714) 665-7514.


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