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‘Under Gaslight’ Mocks Innocent Past

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OK, so the Pacific Theatre Ensemble’s revival of Augustin Daly’s post-Civil War New York melodrama “Under the Gaslight” isn’t exactly an amazing unearthing of a piece of charming, forgotten Americana. (It was staged 10 years ago by the Cabaret Repertory Theatre in Brea.) But for everyone but Brea residents, this is a remarkable act of discovery, while also gently, nimbly lampooning the thing discovered.

“Gaslight” also marks the next phase in the life of this durable company, which has moved its public performances into a building immediately adjacent to the Helms Bakery complex. Stephen Wyman’s gracefully comic staging--sometimes veering close to the feeling of the Marx Brothers invading a ball--instantly wipes away any awareness of the space’s low ceiling. PTE will be able to arrange the seating and playing area pretty much any way it pleases.

This time, things please very, very much. While Wyman’s cast members play this outlandishly unlikely adventure the only way it could be played--with a mocking of an innocent past--they also work within Daly’s play, which means figuring out how to act in a seemingly long-forgotten melodramatic style. It is as if the group had a seance with Daly to get pointers, so thoroughly does this show put us in the theater of gentlemanly chivalry, swooning damsels and snarling villains.

But this is also a “Gaslight” for the Year of the Woman, championing poor Laura (Suzanne Ford, soft as a flower one moment, tough as steel the next) when she is exposed as an orphan child on the eve of her marriage to wealthy Ray (Robert Jacobs, masterfully deadpanning the matinee-idol image while celebrating it). This sets off a typhoon of a Dickensian plot, sweeping in everyone from a one-armed Civil War veteran (an endearing Vince Melocchi) always helping Laura and the plot in the nick of time, to the nefarious Byke (a hiss-worthy Bill Evans) who--yes--even ties an innocent to the railroad tracks (when Daniel Gordon’s subtle lights go into overdrive).

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As light and self-parodying as PTE’s previous “Slaughterhouse on Tanner’s Close” was dark and bloodcurdling, “Under the Gaslight” is a crystalline demonstration of a company in total control, from the class-conscious costumes by Cara Varnell, Alex Jaeger and Lori Martin to music director Jason Michael Alexander’s selection of 12 (mostly Stephen Foster) songs played by pianist Tom Gerou. This group even sings like birds. What can’t it do?

“Under the Gaslight,” Pacific Theatre Ensemble, 8780 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends Nov. 1. $15; (213) 660-8587. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.

‘Egghead’ Parodies Reagan and Moyers

A political parody like Steve Sheridan’s “Dutch and the Egghead,” at Theatre/Theater, may seem like an easy setup: Let’s put Ronald (Dutch) Reagan (Sheridan) on the grill with Bill (Egghead) Moyers (Tom Virtue) in charge of the spatula, and watch the old man fry.

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Well, it’s not that easy--even if it is at least four years late--and director Richard Kuhlman doesn’t hide the difficulties as he hasn’t quite corralled a script that is sometimes a little too amused with itself.

But this is also a collaboration of many of the artists in Theatre/Theater’s previous “American Splendor,” so there is also a wry sensibility here, and two actors with sometimes astonishi18522522761751474532in his self-created image, admitting in one of his typical zingers that “I never know what I’m going to remember,” then promising “I will give you the facts as only I know them.”

“Dutch and the Egghead,” Theatre/Theater, 1713 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. Fridays, 10:30 p.m. Ends Oct. 30. $12; (213) 660-8587). Running time: 1 hour, 5 minutes.

‘Naked Body’ Nakedly Showcases Connor

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Writer-performer Michael Connor’s act in “Naked Body,” at Blue Line Theatre, is probably the closest thing on stage right now to high-caffeinated channel surfing. He blends non-stop punning with quick-change personae as he becomes the voice of KBOD, the channel tuned in to the human body. Whose, we never know.

A lot of this is a clever though barely disguised variation on comedy club parodies of the media (“Call 976-GERM: Anyone who’s not an antibody is calling”), and Connor would probably be the first to admit that “Naked Body” is rather nakedly a showcase for his rangy vocal and physical strengths. But those strengths are awfully impressive, especially when his body trip lands him in the courtroom of the brain where reason absurdly dukes it out with the subconscious.

“Naked Body,” Blue Line Theatre, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Tuesdays-Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Ends Nov. 4. $10; (213) 466-1767). Running time: 1 hour.

Brian Friel’s ‘Lovers’ Revived at Gardner

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Irish playwright Brian Friel’s early work, such as his 1967 one-act pair “Lovers” (“Winners” followed by “Losers”), reveals that he was already a thoughtfully ironic tragedian. Director Marilyn Downey’s Gardner Stage revival is a wee too poverty-stricken for even her good actors to put us securely in either the idyllic hilltop setting of “Winners” or the domestic flat of “Losers.” But they do put across Friel’s language with care.

“Winners” is the more inventive and ironic, as two young lovers (Mary Fabricant as a walking, talking life-force and Jim Moyle as her studious beau) play out a fateful rendezvous dryly revealed to us by two narrators (Christine Devereux and Barry Grayson). The piece’s double layers of tragedy and wistfulness are simply heftier than “Losers’ ” lighter account of fiances (Grayson and Devereux) interrupted in their lovemaking by the girlfriend’s supposedly sickly, bedridden mother. Grayson wittily presents his fellow’s predicament, but Friel’s metaphoric joke on Catholicism’s pull on Ireland’s soul probably plays best in the old country.

“Lovers,” Gardner Stage I, 1501 N. Gardner, Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Oct. 10. $10; (213) 466-1767). Running time: 2 hours.

Garrett-Gonyea ‘There!’ Casual to a Fault

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By all accounts, Betty Garrett’s previous solo affairs (“Betty Garrett and Other Songs,” “No Dogs or Actors Allowed”) were fine, informal occasions. The best thing one can say about her new affair--not solo, but this time with performer-of-all-trades Dale Gonyea--is that it, too, is informal.

But “So There!” at Upstairs at the Pasadena Playhouse, is casual to a fault. There are some nice moments here--Gonyea’s albeit recycled word-playing ditties or Garrett turning what first sounds like a joke (her mini-musical version of “Come Back, Little Sheba”) into an affecting portrait of the lonely housewife--but she and Gonyea generally come across as making up this act on the run, despite John Carter’s credit as director. The near-moribund Sunday matinee audience was surely no help to two performers who need to connect with a crowd. On the other hand, the patrons may have been wondering, “We paid $20 for this ?” “So There!,” Upstairs at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. Ends Oct. 4. $20; (818) 356-7529, (213) 480-3232). Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.


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