SECOND-STORY THEATRE AND TWO ENCORES by James Brown (Story Line Press: $16.95; 192 pp.) A has-been, a still-is and a might-be inhabit James Brown’s Hollywood. Respectively, they are irascible, acerbic Henry, who ran afoul of HUAC and never made it back; Evelyn, mature and generous, holding her own in a TV series; Linus, once a child star, now working on his second wind. Top billing, though, goes to the wrecking ball that is changing not only Hollywood’s face but its character as well. The old Royal Hotel--once glorious, now derelict--is razed to accommodate a new freeway. Henry’s house is next, the one with the little theater on the second floor. One last performance is all Henry asks before he plays out Act 3 in a rest home. It’s a touching story--flush with nostalgia for the Brown Derby, Schwab’s, the high holy days of Clifton’s Cafeteria--but a flat one. Brown’s people are in character but not of character.
Faring a little better are the players of the two short stories that pad out the book. “The Rat Boy” is a disturbed Vietnam vet who lives in one of the L.A. River’s drainage tunnels. “The Friend” is a drug user who wants to pull a buddy down with him. Like “Theatre,” they’re both good yarns. Also like “Theatre,” they both could use a personality pump.