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Comedic ‘Entanglements’ an Audience Show

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In theater parlance, an audience show is one with sufficiently broad elements to appeal to young adults, their parents and grandparents. Naomi Feldman’s romantic comedy “Entanglements” at the Court Theater is that kind of play, and judging from the packed house on a recent rainy night--which drew an equal mix of young couples and elderly patrons--it’s attracting a wide audience.

That’s atypical for most small theater with its insular crowds. Credit the sitcom nature of this piece, which is not meant as a slam but as an explanation of its totally light and undemanding material.

In fact, the text is squishy like a chocolate eclair. But the production, under the sunny direction of co-star Robert Mandan, is so brisk that the result is a surprisingly tasty diversion.

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This is an in-laws comedy, which is all you need to know except that here one set is Gentile (the stuffy Mandan and the agreeable Marty Morin, who’s reminiscent of Barbara Bush) and the other set Jewish (the brassy Lila Teigh and the fragile Aaron Heyman). Their kids--middle-aged and on their second marriages--are performed with zest and affable fluster by Michael McKenzie and Lenore Kasdorf.

Mandan, with his crisp timing, is so at home as the elitist father-in-law that he creates a kind of hammy charm. The production values, notably Anthony Moore’s comfortable interior set design, catch the upscale standards of a professional Westside couple.

“Entanglements,” Court Theater, 722 N. La Cienega Blvd. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m., Saturday matinees, 2 p.m. Ends Feb. 7. $20-$25. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hours.

Gay Foray Into a Hetero World

When a dreadfully campy comedy is played to the hilt by a talented band of actors, the result can be curiously mesmerizing, much like watching an entire cast slip on a banana peel. That describes the Celebration Theatre’s “Secret Lives of the Sexists” by the late Charles Ludlam.

This is a gay playwright’s bawdy comedy of overhormoned straight people with one notoriously homosexual character (Ned Van Zandt) who doesn’t know he’s gay but wants nothing to do with his wife and constantly goes around combing the hair of little female dolls. He manages to coax his brother (the lusting, nervously funny George Contini) to seduce his frustrated wife (the sexy, hilarious Cyndi Freeman).

The production is interesting as a gay theater’s singular foray into the world of heteros, who are all portrayed as sexually crazed to one degree or another (including the lascivious Gray Palmer, the tortured Robin Lilly and the busty, volcanic Julia Pearlstein as the carnivorous Mme. Zena Gross-finger--Ludlam had a way with names).

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Director Fred Gorelick marshals this hyperventilating cartoon into fast slapstick with touches of farce and even vaudeville. The plot, complete with guys in drag, is mindless and the characters strenuously one-dimensional, much like those naughty comic strips that sixth graders will tease third graders with during recess. In fact, it’s reminiscent of the sexual antics of Popeye and Olive Oyl in an underground comic book that made the rounds of my grammar school and literally introduced a whole generation to the birds and the bees.

Rather amazingly, considering the lunacy, the production has a sheen to it, and the set design by Steven Winderbrooks, with the sparest of props, deftly segues from two New York apartments to a salon to a hotel.

“Secret Lives of the Sexists,” Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood . Fri d ays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. ; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Feb. 7. $15. (213) 660-TKTS. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

‘Anarchy’ an Ego Trip for Ron Max

In Ron Max’s one-man show, “Fear, Love and Anarchy,” at the Hudson Backstage, he plays himself or, more specifically, talks about himself, which is a dangerous thing for an actor to do.

Generally, distinctive autobiographical monologues either feature a gallery of wondrously materialized characters (like Charlayne Woodard’s “Pretty Fire,” recently in this same theater) or focus tightly on an emotional watershed.

But to chronicle, however smoothly in Max’s case, what it’s like to grow up an outsider in an orthodox Jewish family (complete with slides of mom and dad), rebel and hit the ‘60s running, do the biker thing, find the big relationship and lose it, struggle as an actor in New York, care for a friend with AIDS, etc.--well, it’s not theater. It’s talk.

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It’s moderately engrossing talk because Max does apply his stage skills, and he wears a battered old leather jacket that cloaks a thousand stories. You can identify with much of his Everyman odyssey, but it’s like something you might hear from a stranger at a party--something about not being quite loved, the blurry ‘60s, looking for love when you’re a misfit.

Don’t tell this story. Dramatize it. Show it. Drop the ego trip.

“Fear, Love and Anarchy,” Hudson Backstage, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood . Fridays , 8 p.m. Indefinitely. $10. (213) 851-8368. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.

Groundlings Show . . . It’s a ‘Gas’

Thursday is all-improv night at the Groundlings. Entitled “Cookin’ With Gas,” the evening’s skits are all audience suggested, which is both the show’s freshness and its curse (“do the Inquisition in Spanish”).

At the reviewed performance, the cast followed almost every crazy and dumb suggestion, including an overload of obligatory gay and lesbian characters.

Briskly hosted and directed by Melanie Graham, the evening is divided between several short improvs in the first act and one long improv in the second act. With improv, less is often more, so the first act was more fun than the sustained second, although Graham constantly changed cast members throughout.

Redheaded Patrick Bristow was skillful at any position and quick with wit. In a relationship sketch, Kathy Griffin and Steve Hibbert came up with lines quickly revealing lovers’ angst: “I wish you loved me enough,” complained Griffin (“enough” instead of the predictable “more” made all the amusing difference).

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The swift thinking of these actors, flying by the seat of their pants, illustrates one big reason why the Groundlings have been around for 18 years.

“Cookin’ With Gas,” The Groundlings, 7307 Melrose Ave. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Indefinitely. $10. (213) 934-9700. Running time: 2 hours.

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