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STAGE REVIEWS : A Pair of Dated Trifles From Schisgal

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A double bill of Murray Schisgal one-acts at the Sunset Strip’s Tiffany Theater, “The Tiger” and “A Need for Brussels Sprouts,” is a diversionary and undemanding theater date. Yet as topical surgery into male-female relationships, the evening is predictable and innocuous.

Schisgal wrote these plays 20 years apart (“Tiger” in the ‘60s and “Brussels Sprouts” in the ‘80s), and they both dramatize the New York playwright’s fascination with posturing characters.

In “Tiger,” the entitled posturer (a manic Wayne Pere) is an insecure, bookish mailman who kidnaps his suburban dream woman and hauls her to his tome-laden Gotham dungeon. His fantasy object (winsome Lyndie Benson, with a towering tiara of dark red hair) moves from stark terror to uncanny composure and materializes into a real-life princess. She even teaches her nerdish captor French and, in a remarkable shift of tone, the couple find love’s tuning fork.

It’s a tribute to the actors and director Stephen Rothman that this inane urban fairy tale, which starts off so hyper, has any ballast at all.

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“A Need for Brussels Sprouts” also features the svelte Benson as a coarse, man-hating policewoman who cites an apartment neighbor for his loud opera recordings. Benson’s abrasive role is stacked like a bad deck, and her performance is a pointed letdown from her endearing work in “The Tiger.”

At least she could have had a spiffy uniform to play off that anger, but instead she clumps around the stage in an ill-fitting outfit that makes her look like a baggy pants Keystone Kop, under an oversized officer’s hat that hides her face. Costume designer Victoria Petrovich (where was director Rothman?) dropped the ball.

As the besieged opera lover, the affable, walrus-like Michael O. Smith is ingratiating as the production’s quintessential poseur, a thrice-married, unemployed actor preparing for an audition as an opera singer in a TV commercial. Ultimately, he melts the badge off the witch, who has a heart after all and finally lets down her hair.

Despite their superficial thematic unity, these plays are dated trifles that might have been written 40 years ago, let alone 20, as far as humor and incisive male-female relevance is concerned.

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What survives are Rothman’s brisk direction and the cast’s thespian chicanery, reinforced by the show’s visual texture--the interior sets, artfully lit by Michael Gilliam, are especially well-designed by Yael Pardess, with a flavorful collection of telltale props.

“The Tiger” and “A Need for Brussels Sprouts,” the Tiffany Theater, 8532 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 7:30 p.m., indefinitely. $15-$18. (213) 289-2999. Running time: 2 hours.


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