THEATER REVIEW : An About-Face Approach : Meegan King's malleable visage is a big plus in this one-man show that's not about the actor's ego.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Ray Loynd writes regularly about theater for The Times.

One-man or one-woman shows have become so ubiquitous on the small theater circuit that it's comparatively refreshing to en counter a solo performance that ostensibly has nothing to do with the actor's ego.

Meegan King, who wrote and embodies five totally different Hollywood characters in "Livin' in Dreamland," at the Eclectic Company Theatre, doesn't indulge his ego or engage in self-expression as confessional therapy. He scratches his id maybe, but that's OK because the material the actor peels away strikes a resonance, or a match, in one's own imagination.

King is a subtle dissembler, never flashy or theatrical, which helps to enhance his credibility to slip in and out of wildly disparate personas. Most of the characters seem to work in anonymity on a Hollywood studio lot. Thankfully, none of them is an actor or writer. King's targets are tougher and more elusive. Except for a floundering, self-inflated producer in a silk suit, all of these people are out of left field.

With deft body language and an array of vocal shifts, King the chameleon segues from a Teamster to the aforementioned movie producer to a painter to a carpenter to a long-distance runner, characters who toil around the margins of the action, much like the fringe studio types in F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Pat Hobby Stories."

Two things strengthen King's performance: his distinct writing, full of humble and revealing detail, and the ordinary features of his malleable face. It's the visage-at-the-next-bar-stool kind of face that makes his writing stand out even more than it otherwise would.

Directors Lloyd Sherr and John Schmidt, abetted by Jill Holden's artful lighting and Lazlo Barki's spare props and effective sound design, crisply propel the individual portraits. Lending credence is the visual sense of a dramatic exchange between King's character and unseen other parties when only King is on the stage.

From beginning to end, the material gradually gets stronger. It culminates in an evocative childhood reverie from the jogger, as he re-creates his 1950s dirt-clod-throwing days while resting on a ridge at the edge of the San Fernando Valley. The point is that you even begin to imagine the Valley, not to mention the guy's "wonder years" as a youth.

Free of a social or political agenda, individuals swim into view, none more clearly than the character we gradually realize is a recovering alcoholic addressing an A. A. meeting. Only the lectern initially betrays the circumstance. Recounting his failed relationship with his last girlfriend, the character suddenly blurts out that "every time we went out it was to go drinking."

Ultimately, there are few pipe dreams here, but rather a lot of ordinary guys searching for their sanity.



What: "Livin' in Dreamland."

Location: The Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood.

Hours: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Ends April 15.

Price: $10 general; $8 seniors and students.

Call: (213) 466-1767.

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