It's a shame. The audience is sitting in anticipation, the lights go down and a couple of excited kids clap--"It's starting!"--but when the lights come up, it appears that something's amiss. Two actors make hasty entrances and exits, calling for someone named Sam. One of their company, it seems, is missing.
With sheepish apologies, Lorrie Oshatz and Royce Herron, members of the Flights of Fantasy Story Theater, race up the aisle and into the Raven Playhouse lobby, peer behind doors on the set and dart backstage, calling for Sam, who's clearly vital to the production. Like Godot, Sam doesn't show, but he's expected any minute. What to do to pass the time until he arrives? Herron and Oshatz will try to think of ways to entertain us.
So begins "Waiting for the Show," theatrical storytelling and comedy performed by a zesty duo, two women who are complementary contrasts in physicality and physical dynamics--Oshatz in glasses, hair flying, is quick-moving and high-energy; Herron is expansive, with a dry, measured sensibility.
They bring intelligence and wit to their performances; to be outstanding, though, they need tighter timing, less dialogue overlap and more volume control: The Raven theater is tiny, and the pair's spirited exchanges at times reach town hall decibel levels.
Their approach to storytelling is delightfully different, however. Quick and clever segues into various characters and story changes are a continuing highlight of the show.
Searching for Sam, Oshatz opens a door to reveal an oversize eyeball and a basket of other giant papier-ma^che facial features. As Herron assembles the face on a wall, the features are given voices with which they smugly express their importance over each other, until all the features find their place and harmony reigns.
Oshatz's invisible dog named Zorro invites pats from the audience and noses out a painted tree and a fishing hat; Oshatz departs and Herron, wearing the hat and fuzzy gloves, is a bear, ready to fish for its dinner.
Anansi the Spider appears (Oshatz, wearing eight goofy spider legs), intent on usurping Bear's dinner. The sneaky spider is no match for wise Bear, however, who makes Anansi's head spin with verbal trickery.
Bear and Anansi exit, and Herron returns, tearful at Sam's prolonged absence. Oshatz's attempts to cheer her lead to Aesop's "The Tortoise and the Hare," running the "Y2K," with Herron playing the unflappable Tortoise. Oshatz, as Hare, anxiously observes Tortoise's surprising staying power and uses disguises to distract his opponent, but Tortoise isn't swayed from the course, despite being accosted by Scarlett O'Hare, reporter Dan Rabbit, and a long-eared, whistle-blowing police officer.
A short segment in which the two women don pink skirts and sing nursery rhymes to the tunes of '60s Supremes hits doesn't go far, but Oshatz's mimed enactment of Ernest L. Thayer's epic baseball poem, "Casey at the Bat," narrated by Herron, is a hoot.
The audience gets into the act during "The Sugar-Free, No-Fat Gingerbread Girl." The title is different, but the story is the same--an elderly couple long for a child and bake a gingerbread girl who comes to life and runs away to see the world. In this version, the foolish cookie girl escapes the greedy fox who wants to snack on her. Herron narrates, Oshatz is the gingerbread girl, and audience volunteers play the little old lady and little old man, a police officer, a teacher and the fox.
A call from the mythical Sam concludes the fun. It seems he's been stuck in heavy traffic on the 405.
* "Waiting for the Show," Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, Saturdays-Sundays, 2 p.m., through July 25. $6-$8. (818) 353-0975. Running time: 45 minutes.
Hit a Homer: Little Leaguers or any junior sports fans, ages 4 to 9, may want to head over to Pages Books in Tarzana on Saturday and celebrate "Baseball--The All-American Game" with a story-time party. Coach Twig McDaniel, a baseball trivia whiz, will trade stats and player information with participants, and Shari Sack has some theme-related tales and songs in store. The $5 registration fee reserves your space and can be applied to the purchase of special baseball picture books, novels and biographies that will be on display.
* "Baseball--The All-American Game" story-time party, Pages Books for Children and Young Adults, 18399 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana, Saturday, 11 a.m. $5. (818) 34-BOOKS.
Tall Tales: Occidental College's fourth annual children's theater summer season, beginning July 8, will include three humorous tales from world folklore, plus director Jamie Angell's comic, fractured folk tale, "Paul Bunyan's Perilous Pancake Breakfast." The improvisational shows, featuring a few props and lots of high-energy physical movement, are performed on the lawn of the college's Hillside Amphitheatre.
* "Occidental Children's Theater," Occidental College, 1600 Campus Road, Eagle Rock. Opens July 8. Thursdays-Saturdays, 10 a.m. Ends Aug. 21. Adults, $8; ages 12 and younger, $4. (323) 259-2922.