'Sweets': Sour Take on Marital Woes

"Classical Sweets," Dennis Melonas' intriguing and sophisticated black comedy at Actors Alley, may be the perfect antidote for every mushy love story ever written.

The title is ironic. So is much of Melonas' script, which offers a refreshingly sour take on marital misunderstandings. Clive (John Hugo, in an exquisitely modulated performance) is a neurotic, modestly talented composer and music teacher. Wife Leena (Karen Reed) is a willful TV production assistant whose career is going nowhere.

From their heady courtship (which we briefly glimpse), the couple's marriage has deteriorated to the point where each partner is fantasizing the other's murder. Clive sees Leena as false and unloving; she sees him as cold and unempathetic. Complicating matters considerably is Leena's affair with Peter (Stuart Fratkin), the couple's neighbor and Clive's supposed best friend and therapist.

All of this might have yielded cliche or pure bile, but Melonas preserves the characters' humanity while spoofing their foibles. One particularly delicious scene finds self-pitying Clive cuddling a bust of Beethoven while his wife and her lover cuddle less innocently in an upstairs apartment.

Director Everett Chambers' production could use some speedier pacing and better transitions between scenes, but the actors add just the right amount of vinegar to this pungent romantic triangle.

* "Classical Sweets," Actors Alley, El Portal Center, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 2 and 7 p.m. Ends Nov. 26. $15. (818) 508-4200. Running time: 2 hours.

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