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THEATER REVIEW : Laughs Pave the ‘Road to Nirvana’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“To be crass for just a moment, if I may. . . .”

Never has a phrase been more exquisitely understated than this one in Arthur Kopit’s wild and woolly “Road to Nirvana.” Al, the would-be Hollywood producer who speaks it, is almost always crass. And Kopit’s play is almost always hilarious.

David Rose’s staging at Third Stage in Burbank doesn’t send its audience into stitches quite as often as the razor-sharp “Road” at the Odyssey in 1991. But it’s plenty funny--and not just for those caught up in the nether world of Hollywood hopefuls. It’s a scream for anyone who has ever been asked to prove one’s dedication to some extremely dubious cause.

Warning: It could make some theatergoers go screaming out the door. This is not a play for anyone who objects to mass quantities of four-letter words. If you can’t abide public discussion of subjects scatological, forget it.

But for anyone with a taste for tastelessness, this is your show. The crudities were magnificently orchestrated by Kopit into cascades of comedy. Though the show is tasteless, it’s hardly pointless.

Al (Mark Hawkins) has invited his old colleague Jerry (James Henriksen) back to Hollywood to work on a new film project. It’s so hot that Al tells Jerry to eat the paper on which is written the name of rock star Nirvana (Lisa Beezley), who’s associated with it, lest word leak out. That paper isn’t the only thing Jerry’s expected to eat.

In the first half, Jerry--goaded by the flagrant distrust of Al’s latest girlfriend Lou (Lisa Kay Powers)--gradually surrenders his better judgment to Al’s scheme. After intermission, the trio goes to the palatial home of Nirvana, a flamboyantly untalented superstar, to nail down the details. (The play was first produced under this title in 1990, before Nirvana, the Seattle grunge group, became famous. Nowadays Kopit might use a different name.)

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Hawkins’ Al is a human oil slick, oozing deep into the marrow of Jerry, played as appealingly vulnerable by Henriksen. Powers is properly caustic, but Lou’s topless scene isn’t as graphic here as it was at the Odyssey. Beezley’s caricature makes Nirvana more hard-nosed than batty. The only problem: A few lines are swallowed or drowned out by the laughter.

* “Road to Nirvana,” Third Stage, 2811 Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Oct. 30. $12. (213) 466-1767.


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