THEATER REVIEW : An Exercise in Aimlessness : Thomas Bellin's one-act double bill in North Hollywood is an undeveloped training session in acting.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Robert Koehler writes frequently about theater for The Times.

In every sense of the term, the one-act double bill by Thomas Bellin, "Night Games" and "Day Games," at the American Rene gade Theatre, is an exercise in acting. Exercise, though, should lead somewhere--to developed muscles, for instance. Bellin's pieces are as underdeveloped as one-acts can be.

"Night Games" is set in an L.A. bar. (The set, in fact, is that of American Renegade's just-closed production, "Martin's Place.") It contains all the usual barroom business we've been served in a hundred other bar plays; everything except patrons. Ernie's establishment apparently doesn't attract much business, even though Ernie himself (John C. Moskoff) is a nice, low-key guy.

Maybe it's his boorish customer George (Robert Ruth) who drives everyone away. Lack of business, though, never seems to be an issue. Instead, Bellin fills his dialogue with sketchy reminiscences between Ernie and George, and when a nameless younger customer (Fred Goss) takes center stage, a lot of talk about gambling.

You know, the Gamble of Life. The Game of Existence. Goss' man is hard-up for a game, so he suggests that the three of them swap identities, just to see what happens.

Bellin is after a metaphor on acting--that we all adopt roles apart from our real identities. But this is an idea that "Night Games" can't energize with either the power of absurdist drama or mano-a-mano intensity. Its very aimlessness infects the performances, which need a lot more exercising under Duchess Dale's direction.

Yet "Night Games" is the stuff of O'Neill compared to the lighter-than-air "Day Games," which Bellin carelessly directs. Resting on a single-joke premise playing off sexual politics, Bellin's domestic comedy places a husband (Michael Klock) and wife (Annie Talbot) in opposite social roles. He's the homemaker, she's the executive, but the actors badly telegraph through their performances that there's a catch in all of this.

When a piece about role-playing is undone by actors unable to play the deliberate double layers of the piece, you're at ground zero. As a symbol of this production's laziness, the uncredited kitchen set (actually a flat dividing off the action from the upstage bar) fails to hide the "Martin's Place" neon sign. If the effort at creating an illusion is as weak as this, what's the point of play-acting at all?



What: "Night Games" and "Day Games."

Location: American Renegade Theatre, 11305 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.

Hours: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday. Ends March 19.

Price: $10 to $12.

Call: (818) 763-4430.

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