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Caring to Send Up the Very Best in ‘Red’

Nick Salamone invites us into a stuffy darkened closet to witness the workings of a claustrophobic marriage between two contemporary bisexuals in his amusing absurdist comedy “Red Hat & Tales,” at the Playwrights’ Arena.

John H. Binkley’s surreal set design is a blue box littered with stars, normal-sized postcards and oversized objects--a woman’s shoe, a tire-sized tin of Kiwi shoe polish and a Neiman Marcus shopping bag that doubles as a projection screen.

Inside this closet, Paul (Salamone) takes refuge from the world and his grief over losing his twin brother by writing postcards to family and friends that he never mails. Paul was forcibly retired from a greeting card company because of his “mental disability.” His Canadian wife, the red-hatted Sheila (Kristin Moneagle), gathers his unmailed postcards, which sometimes include postscripts that act as the only form of communication she now has with her husband.

The beleaguered Sheila has her own neurosis about the color green (she has “deforested” Paul’s wardrobe of the color) and the furry, ragged red hat she wears at all times. “The things I put up with for a green card,” she moans, adding, “I hate to eat alone.”

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In his script, Salamone includes literary references and intentionally bad greeting-card-style poetry, making whimsical commentary on topics as varied as Ernest Hemingway and incest.

Jon Lawrence Rivera directs with a gentle, intelligent hand. Salamone brings a childlike quality to his role that never grates, while Moneagle expresses the thinning patience of a wife who has played mother too long.

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* “Red Hat & Tales,” Playwrights’ Arena, 5252 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends Aug. 1. $12. (323) 960-7756. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

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