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‘Brief’ Pokes Fun at Barristers’ Profession

John Mortimer’s “Dock Brief” is an amusing piece of fluff, and director Norman Cohen provides a suitably whimsical air for this delightful production at Fremont Centre Theatre.

Mr. Fowle (John O’Connell) is a dotty middle-aged man with greasy hair and an apologetic manner. Having neither friends nor money, he has selected an inept and inexperienced barrister, Morgenhall (F. William Parker), to represent him for a crime he readily admits he committed. After so many years of living with his wife, Doris, a woman so cheerful she was “bubbly like a drowning woman,” Fowle killed her to get some peace and quiet. Morgenhall is still determined to find a suitable defense for his very first client.

Mortimer was once a barrister himself before he turned to writing. Here, he expertly skewers the profession with a gentle, apolitical flair.

Cohen directs with a light hand and great wit. Although both Parker and O’Connell are good in their roles, it’s O’Connell who really carries the production. As the working-class man whose business is budgies, O’Connell is sympathetically touched with a wee bit of lunacy and a logical clarity of simplistic motivations.

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* “Dock Brief,” Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends March 1. $12-$15. (888) 441-5979. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

‘Discoveries’ Offers Mixed One-Act Bill As Geraldo Rivera found out in his Al Capone special, not all discoveries are the same. The Series A: “Discoveries” bill of Theatre 40’s ninth annual One Act Festival wildly ranges from the dismal to the fiendishly funny.

The worst of the six is Bea Silvern’s “Rockshade,” a one-note ramble about a disheveled couple (Jennifer Williams and Harry Singleton) still dressed in their now-ragged bridal duds. Living in the years after “the Great Global Warming,” they fight over the shade provided by a dubious-looking rock and vie to stand in a passing breeze while grunting sounds of disgust or joy. Neither the accompanying violin music by Alma Cielo or Jon Lawrence Rivera’s direction can save this piece.

Harry Singleton’s “Bible Study” has the preacher’s son (Glen Beaudin) using the tale of Sheba to seduce a classmate (Stacey Stone)--a clever idea not fully developed in script or characterization.

More interesting is Demetrio James Cuzzocrea’s “The Wings of Love.” In a “Rashomon"-like layering of monologues that echo and link into dialogues, three people (Ben Brown, Amy Beth Cohn and John Durant), who as children dreamed of being military pilots, give differing accounts of conduct unbecoming.

An elderly mother, Rose (Gloria Stroock), remembers “Waiting for the Moon to Fall” in Bernadette Hale’s touching but slightly rough piece. Daughter Stefanie (Stephanie Satie) buys a tape recorder for Rose’s birthday, hoping she will record the wonderful stories of her past. Despite Anita Khanzadian Jones’ sensitive direction, this promising piece doesn’t flow as well as it could, and the third character hangs on like an unnecessary appendage.

In “Eight Items or Less,” David Watts details an awkward courtship between shy widower Al (Milt Kogan) and the supermarket cashier Selma (Linde Gibb) who works only on Tuesdays. Director Joe Ochman makes the bickering between the two old men, Al and Marty (Thomas Thomas), convincing and the promise of blossoming romance sweet.

Hindi Brooks has written a funny, meet-cute trifle, “Computer Pals,” about the dangers of exaggerating the truth in chat rooms. As shy nerds looking for love, Barbara Keegan and Jeffrey Winner are hilarious. Director Howard Teichman sets a fast pace and veers from poignant wistfulness to slapstick silliness.

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* Theatre 40’s ninth annual One-Act Festival, Series A: “Discoveries,” Theatre 40, Beverly Hills High School campus, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Feb. 21. $12. (213) 876-8980. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

On the Flip Side, Show Biz Prevails As one might expect from the title, the Series B: “Entertainers” bill in Theatre 40’s ninth annual One-Act Festival is predominantly about show business, although not all of it manages to be entertaining.

Stacey Stone’s “Proof Sheets” is about a photographer (Jeffrey Winner) who specializes in head shots for Hollywood hopefuls. “I am a chameleon; I become what the subject wants me to be,” he says. Slipping into various faux accents, he is unconvincing and his motivation unclear. Maybe a credited director might have helped.

After the fast-paced fun of Hindi Brooks’ Series A “Computer Pals,” her other piece, “Supposing Moses,” is a letdown. Moses (Stuart Weiss) berates an actor (Darin Singleton) who’s trying out for the part of the prophet to speak with an Yiddish-inflected diction.

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Frank Farmer’s " . . . or not to be . . . ,” is a viciously funny account of how a pretentious director (David Hunt Stafford) and a well-heeled producer (Jennifer Williams) can torture a desperate unknown actor (Jonathan Fuller). Bernard Selling directs with a tasteful sense of seduction.

A nonreligious son (Jonathan Fuller) is bothered that his hospitalized father (Thom Koutsoukos) has found religion in Harvey Landa’s “Praying With Silverman.” It’s more put-upon humor than grand philosophy, and director J. David Krassner balances the one-liners with the more serious thoughts of death.

“Howard Hughes in Hell,” by Grant Gottschall, has the hypochondriac Hughes (David St. James) slyly manipulating his poor Mormon employee (Mark B. Hills). Although the ending rings false, St. James is disgustingly funny--red-faced and dementedly intelligent, attired in a diaper and Kleenex-box shoes. Lauren Cloud’s direction prevents this from going too far over the top.

* Theatre 40’s ninth annual One-Act Festival, Series B: “Entertainers,” Theatre 40, Beverly Hills High School campus, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. Wednesday, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Feb. 22. $12. (213) 876-8980. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

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