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THEATER REVIEW : A Mediocre Score in the Game of Life

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; <i> T.H. McCulloh writes regularly about theater for The Times</i>

What’s “More Fun Than Bowling”? Well, for one thing death is, according to playwright Steven Dietz, whose comedy of that name is running at the Lionstar Theatre.

His play, which looks a little dated in the ‘90s, is of a genre popular a decade or so ago, when logic was not a consideration, wild and crazy the norm, metaphor the form, and actors were asked only for characters, not characterizations. The pendulum has swung back to richer dramatic territory, and Dietz’s simplism seems a bit thin in comparison. It has its share of very funny lines, but his metaphors have a tinny ring and none of the points he makes are anywhere near being resolved.

Jake, whose first wife divorced him and then married money, owns a bowling alley in the Midwestern town of Turtle Rapids (get the pun?). He married Lois, who died, then two weeks later married her best friend Loretta, who passed on as quickly. We discover Jake rising from a grave between those of his last two wives, but he can’t remember which one is buried where. He’s giving the grave a trial run because of a Gypsy prophecy about his own demise. Originally planning a career as a concert pianist, a foul ball in a baseball game crushed his right hand and gave him the perfect bowling hand. But now life seems even more cruel and dangerous, particularly with a mysterious man named Mr. Dyson hot on his heels with an intriguing attache case and a handgun.

That’s only the beginning of the plethora of incidents leading nowhere. One-liners abound: “Love is like being too drunk to go bowling; it doesn’t happen that often.” They get their due laughs, but the obtuseness of most of the dialogue takes off some of their shine. Jake’s referring to a bowling ball as Death out to murder the five-pin, and his fear that there’s no bowling in the Great Beyond look like no more than the playwright’s obsession with the game.

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Director Richard Ryder and a good cast try their best to make it all work, but comedic gutter balls outnumber the strikes.

Tim Farmer, like most of the company, is happy with a character instead of a characterization as Jake. Lorraine Morgan is bubbling and giddy as his wiser-than-her-age daughter, and Cheryl Cameron seems oddly restrained as his second wife (much of the play is in flashbacks). Michelle Chilton is the third wife and gets most of the laughs. Dwayne Ross is also very funny as the mysterious Dyson.

Where and When

What: “More Fun Than Bowling.”

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Location: Lionstar Theatre, 12655 Ventura Blvd., Studio City.

Hours: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Ends Oct. 22.

Price: $12 to $14.

Call: (818) 503-5583.

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