With "Children of Shame," playwright W. Colin McKay and Blue Sphere Alliance again employ the device of a war crimes investigation to peer between the cracks of clear-cut moral platitudes.
As in last year's "Nagasaki Dust," which inaugurated the company's residence at the Lex Theatre, the gray areas take center stage--this time surrounding the plight of the innocent offspring of Muslim women raped by their Serbian oppressors in present-day Bosnia.
Recruited in a covert operation to locate three rape victims holding photographic evidence incriminating a high-ranking Serbian official, a civilian United Nations investigator (Sandra Thigpen) finds herself in a duel of wits with the head of a Christian missionary outpost (Mary Linda Phillips) who'd been sheltering the women and their unwanted, abused children.
With pinpoint precision, Phillips straddles the dual nature of a character seemingly befuddled by all the "flopsy-doodle" political turmoil around her, while perpetrating a masterful game of cat-and-mouse with the investigator she's not sure she can trust. Equally strong performances are supplied by her assistants (Tricia Dong and Karen James).
Thigpen has a harder time of it--McKay's script is less successful at weaving her character's personal issues into the larger dramatic issues. The points where the investigator's life clashes with her task--her aggressive flirtation with her supervising military attache (Lee Spencer), and her own bad experience with motherhood--feel forced and contrived. There's also a stilted recurring scenario in which Thigpen's character keeps realizing she's been duped by the missionaries in after-the-fact dialogue with her supervisor.
Nevertheless, director Anthony Barnao and his capable cast wring other scenes of great power and eloquence from a worthy theme.
* "Children of Shame," Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Oct. 4. $12. (213) 957-5782. Running time: 2 hours.
Lessons Wear Thin in 'Class Enemy' "Class Enemy" at the Court Theatre tackles the dangerous consequences that result when troubled youths are left to initiate themselves into adulthood without the guidance of older mentors. Originally written 20 years ago, Nigel Williams' British schoolroom drama has been transposed into a contemporary American multicultural setting in a well-intentioned but problematic staging by Jose Manuel Galvan "Topo" and Don~a Maria Guevara for Eagle Tribute Productions.
In a dilapidated classroom, as a rainbow coalition of high school delinquents waits in vain for the arrival of a remedial teacher, they take turns giving lessons of their own design. Psychologically and emotionally unfit for the task, their topics range from leering sex jokes to racist manifestoes.
The more accomplished performances--from Jorge Jimenez, Diane Hudock, Warren Jackson, and George Peck--bristle with conviction, but this dated play is short on insight and too often confuses inarticulate rage with unintelligibility.
* "Class Enemy," Court Theatre, 722 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 and 7 p.m. Runs indefinitely. $25. (213) 660-TKTS. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.