THEATER REVIEW : Lost in TV World : First Stage Alert's effort to stretch bounds of theater is overrun with dumb gimmicks and punch lines.

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

In a program note, the First Stage Alert company states that it is "dedicated to stretching the bounds of theater in new, innovative directions."

In its four one-acts at the Lionstar Theatre No. 2, the company has gone where too many have dared to go before in its chartless quest and gotten hopelessly lost in the rarefied world of television writing and acting.

Under the umbrella title "Wet Spots" (no pun intended), the plays are inconsequential, meretricious and based on dumb gimmicks and punch lines. The writers and directors appear to have spent more time in front of the tube than in theater seats.

Grant Gottschall's "Kest Lamore," directed by Rachel Wells, in 20 minutes, has three scenes and two set changes. Its story of dumb '90s girl meets dumber '90s boy, loses boy, then finagles boy back with the help of her relationship-wise gay waiter friend, was old when D. W. Griffith was directing two-reel silent comedies. Wells keeps it crisp and fast, but that doesn't help.

Wells is better off as an actress in "Sex in the Title," written and directed by Gottschall. She's a jaded porn star trying to get rid of her young-stud leading man (Steven Wise), who confuses sex with love. Wells and Wise try to mold characterizations, but they have little to work with besides explicit language describing the scene they just filmed.

Lisa Morton's "Sleeping Dogs" tackles stale territory where four women talk about themselves at a slumber party while the hostess's husband is away fishing. They don't say anything interesting, and only Heather Shafer's recently divorced Lori, with a sharp tongue and the wisdom of the wounded, makes a stab at sounding real.

The most ludicrous play ends the evening--and one's patience. This one took both Gottschall and Morton to write and Gottschall to direct. Tiffany (Maryann Majick) and Frank (Michael O'Connell) find both their dog, Spike, and their grubby roommate, Ralph (both played by Michael Robert Nyman), dead, a godsend for Frank's basement DNA experiments. The combination of Spike and Ralph that Frank creates is a disaster, particularly in the show's high point, when the monster graphically relieves himself all over a visitor (Gottschall). Dogs aren't dumb.



What: "Wet Spots."

Location: Lionstar Theatre No. 2, 12655 Ventura Blvd., Studio City.

Hours: 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 9.

Price: $8.

Call: (818) 761-6783.

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