THEATER REVIEWS : 'Lounge Act' Sings Dull Song at Lost Studio

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There's the kind of suspension of disbelief that's fun and creative, when an audience is in a sort of co-conspiracy with the illusion-making going on in front of it. The broader moments in Kaufman and Hart, or when that angel drops from heaven in "Angels in America," for example.

Then, there's the kind of suspension of disbelief that's nothing more than turning the brain off, since even a co-conspiracy won't help. "Lounge Act," for example.

It's a shame that a play's essence has to depend on a convincing taped re-creation of a 20-year-old performance by a crooner at the height of his powers, but that's the problem playwright Barry Jay Kaplan sets up for himself. His whole drama hinges on the idea that former Vegas biggie Larry Fame's lounge act isn't what it used to be. Yet based on the recording in Patrick Pankhurst's staging at the Lost Studio (audio engineered and produced by Mitchel Delevie), Larry's act was mediocre at best to start with.

Larry (Philip Charles MacKenzie) listens to it while warming up in the dressing room of Mickey's Shangri-La, and he gets goose bumps. Melinda (Cinda Jackson), a fan of Larry's who also happens to be a hooker, talks about it like others talk about the Stones at the Forum in '69. "You spoke to me," she tells Larry.

But not this night, she also tells him after his act. After two years as a deejay, Larry's been lured by his dad, Abe (Martin E. Brooks), to do a "comeback" date at the Vegas joint where his mom died. Abe thinks Larry's back to stay. Melinda is the only one who can tell him that the comeback is DOA.

As far as our ears can tell, Larry had no place from which to come back. It would have been one thing if Kaplan had established Larry as a third-rate act in a fourth-rate club (Robert Claypool's kitschy set, confusing matters, suggests just that). But we're told his act used to be at the Cocoanut Grove with Darin and Goulet in the audience, and thus, his fall is meant to be affecting, even a metaphor.

It doesn't convince, but not because MacKenzie doesn't try. He looks and sounds like a guy who wants to prove something to himself, while this little voice inside is telling him he's a fool. Both he and Brooks play out moments of mortality--MacKenzie when he straps on a garter belt for his pudgy waist, Brooks when he sounds like a heart attack is coming on--in ways that you wish Kaplan could write it. Tom Challis as Abe's weasely assistant is a pallid comic relief device, but the inexpressive Jackson only makes Melinda that much harder to take as a device to force Larry to see the truth.

* "Lounge Act," The Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends June 6. $15; (213) 660-8587. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

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