STAGE REVIEW : 1960s Tale Has Lost Its Why

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Michael Weller's "Moonchildren" has some good things going for it on stage at Orange Coast College this weekend. The cast's age is correct for this tragicomic tale of university students during the turbulent '60s, and the script's many funny moments are served up generously under the focused direction of Christopher Uhl.

But the underlying tragedy of Weller's script, which aches to be a portrait of a generation, remains merely a suggestion behind an antic facade .

Five young men and two young women in their final year of college are sharing an apartment. The Vietnam War is going full tilt outside, while inside, debates and hormones rage. It's a diverse group of protagonists: a tortured musician, a math nerd, two brilliant zanies, a reluctant earth mother, a high-minded sex princess and a stud. Although their interactions provide tempests aplenty, the real antagonist of the piece is that favorite nemesis of the '60s, The Establishment, and more specifically, The War.

The tremendous uncertainty that marked those years of protest and experimentation runs like a dark current behind the outrageous buffoonery and sexual entanglements of Weller's characters. It constitutes the "why" of their humor, but in this production, that "why" goes unasked.

To his credit, director Uhl keeps the many characters moving around the stage with effortless ease. Although the tempo is breathlessly punchy, the focus is sharp, despite the nonstop routines and the burgeoning danger of upstaging.

The cast delivers the comedy with a friendly flipness. B.J. Porter is particularly entertaining as a magna cum laude cutup, abetted by Vilo Del Rio as his scintillating soul brother. Shari Heatherly is very solid as Ruth. One can see the coming adult in her face.

As the straight man of the group, William Meadows offers deadpan gravity that not only is an effective foil for the others' mania, but which he believably misguides into deep-thinking self-destructiveness. Karl Person performs with an intensity that is valiant.

As the clownish embodiment of those untrustworthy over-30-ites, Randy Campbell contributes a high moment recounting a lusty dream. Madelyn Gillespie would be fine as Shelly if she would only stop laughing at her own jokes.

'Moonchildren'

An Orange Coast College Repertory production of the play by Michael Weller. Directed by Christopher Uhl. Assistant director: Michele Miles. Light design: Helen-Dianne Roberts. Sound design: Mike Patrick. With Karl Person, Vilo Del Rio, B.J. Porter, Shari Heatherly, Tamara Feist, William Meadows, Michael Nottingham, Madelyn Gillespie, Jillian Johnson, Randy Campbell, Q.S. Powell, Michael Hebler, David Scaglione. Today at 5 and 8:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. in the Drama Lab at Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa. Tickets: $4 in advance, $5 at the door. Box office: (714) 432-5527.

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