'Love Letters,' 'Ennui' in Mixed Double Bill

"Love Letters" recently opened a stint at a Las Vegas casino, so one may wonder whether A.R. Gurney's play, like Wayne Newton and Robert Goulet, has already moved into the realm of self-parody.

But that hasn't stopped Chicago actor George Brant, who has written an amusing, if overlong, send-up called "Lovely Letters," now splitting a double bill with Jill Cargerman's "The Smell of Ennui" at Theatre/Theater.

In Gurney's unabashedly sentimental drama, a wealthy scion and the neurotic girl-next-door sit and read aloud from a lifetime of correspondence that etches their attenuated relationship. Brant's parody finds a pair of similarly well-heeled pen pals exchanging petty and vicious personal attacks, beginning with a dispute over a bag of stale snack chips.

Brant has a winningly low-key sense of humor (his characters hail from a burg called Plowtown) and his performance as the pompous Richard Johnson makes a nice counterpoint to Adrienne Corcoran's smarmy Jane Pennington. But the play still feels like a 10-minute sketch inflated, for no very good reason, into a 45-minute one-act.

Cargerman's rather aimless comedy, which suffers from a bit of ennui itself, concerns Mavis (Nicole Sullivan), a befuddled Gen X-er trying to come to terms with her commitment-phobic boyfriend (Jeff Rosenthal), insidious psychotherapist (Barry Saltzman) and batty, argumentative mother (Jane Lynch).

Other writers have mined this kind of hip urban comedy with a fresher, more focused perspective, though the sight of very funny and talented Lynch as a querulous aging hippie is almost worth the price of admission.

* "Lovely Letters" and "The Smell of Ennui," Theatre/Theater, 1713 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Ends March 2. $10. (213) 850-6941. Running time: 2 hours.

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