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‘Refrigerators’ Retails a Strained Take on the Mixed-Up ‘60s

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Three women, each seeking to buy the same kind of refrigerator, converge on a store in 1964, only to discover that model is out of stock. While a novice salesman (Tony Lee) attempts to locate the coveted appliance, the women chat. Soon we’re watching episodic reenactments of the events that led each to the store.

So goes Judy Soo Hoo’s “Refrigerators.” Produced by Lodestone Theatre Ensemble at East Los Angeles College, it’s an intriguing but ultimately strained reflection on the mixed-up, half-feminist, half-retro zeitgeist of that era.

Apple (Kelly Miyashiro) is a would-be traditional housewife--apple pie and all. But her husband (Tim Lounibos), who caused a terrible accident, doesn’t quite measure up to Ward Cleaver.

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Crystal (Elaine Kao) is an impatient divorcee whose husband was stolen by her sister (May Wang). When they’re not at each other’s throats, they’re investigating family secrets about their parents’ past in an internment camp for Japanese Americans.

Although mousy Grace (Rachel Morihiro) still lives with her brassy mother (Jeanne Sakata, who doesn’t look nearly as old as advertised), she’s beginning to fall in love with a woman (Melody Butiu) who coincidentally is hired as her mother’s massage therapist.

Staged breezily by Jennifer J. Yun, the three stories give the play a plot-heavy yet sketchy feeling. The attempt to bring them together in the scenes at the store feels about as airtight as a refrigerator with the door left ajar.

Don Shirley

“Refrigerators,” East Los Angeles College, 1301 Avenida Cesar Chavez, Monterey Park. Fridays-Saturdays, 8:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m. $13. (323) 993-7245. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

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Infidelity Proves to Be More Than ‘Just Sex’

“Tonight’s theme is honesty,” declares the hostess at the outset of a truth-telling game that will ultimately lead her guests to a spouse-swapping experiment. Despite some dubious sitcom contrivance in setting up his premise, writer-director Jeff Gould finds his way to emotional authenticity with his engaging new serious comedy “It’s Just Sex,” at the Whitefire Theatre.

In updating “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” for a more jaded and conservative era, Gould skillfully plays to his principal draws--a racy theme, an attractive cast and breezy if sometimes glib one-liners. But having locked in the attention of his audience, Gould uses the opportunity for some provocative reflections on the consequences of consensual infidelity.

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The first act is spent building up the circumstances that would allow three couples to turn one of their regular unadventurous get-togethers into an orgy. Each marriage has its stress points: a stuck-up programmer (Craig Woolson) and a controlling lawyer (Daintry Jensen) in a sexual dry spell; a hedonistic writer (Bruce Nozick) and a masseuse (Summer Mahoney) unable to focus on deeper issues; and the hostess (Kristin Carey) who has just caught her husband (Stephen Meadows) with a hooker (Amanda Swisten).

In setting up these characters and their problems, Gould resorts to clunky, sometimes artificial scripting. The series of establishing scenes for each couple is particularly labored--everything we need to know about their tensions could be suggested more naturally at the start of the gathering.

Some heavy-handedness undermines believability--Carey’s digs at Meadows telegraph her cold fury so obviously that it would be impossible for her guests to relax and ignore it, let alone follow her lead into territory full of emotional landmines. Yet Carey also turns in the most affecting performance (Nozick and Jensen are the other standouts). Gould could improve his play with more trust in his capable actors and the power of subtle suggestion.

The piece hits its stride in the second act, where the characters are unable to compartmentalize the escapade as a meaningless indulgence, and are forced to deal with the fallout in sharply focused confrontations. In addition to his insightful dialogue, Gould refrains from facile moralizing.

Frankly acknowledging the impossibility of separating sexuality from issues of loyalty and respect for a partner’s feelings, he nevertheless refuses to pass judgment on the couples’ experiment. For some of them, it turns out to be a good thing, for others, a catastrophe--but in no case is it innocuous. It’s never just sex.

Philip Brandes

“It’s Just Sex,” Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. (dark this Sunday). Ends May 19. $20. (818) 487-7391. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

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Vaudeville-Style Revue Celebrates Diversity

Vaudeville returns in a revamped form in “The Rainbow Revue,” which salutes American freedom and individual accomplishment as it spotlights talent from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

Sincere intention and hard work are much in evidence, and diversity is a watchword. These two dozen singers, dancers and stand-up comics are a rainbow coalition in a multicultural as well as a gay-pride sense.

But while these performers would do themselves proud at a local amateur night, they don’t add up to the Broadway-level entertainment that creator-producer Matt Gatson, director Kevin Vavasseur and the rest of the show’s creators would like to think they’ve assembled at the New Ivar Theatre in Hollywood.

And as the show tries to be something it isn’t, it ends up undermining its performers.

For instance, dance routines are layered onto most of the singers’ performances. Choreographed by Bart Doerfler and executed by five hard-bodied dancers--four male, one female--these routines add sizzle, yet they upstage the vocalists every time. When a singer named Sire closes the first act with a ‘70s funk reworking of the Cole Porter classic “Love for Sale,” he’s mere sonic wallpaper for a sexy bowler-hat-and-chairs dance routine lifted from the Bob Fosse canon.

Sound levels also are a problem: Once again, the singers--including Jackie Moreno performing “Paraiso,” David McNutt belting “You Don’t Know Me” and Charley Geary singing “Lluvia Sensual”--are the losers, as they are overpowered by the versatile and otherwise wonderful house band: eight instrumentalists on horns, electric guitars and bass, drums and keyboard.

Even so, some nice surprises shine through: an a cappella, close-harmony, doo-wop rendition of the Gershwin standard “I Got Rhythm,” by Ronn Jones, Marss Ramos and Ryan San Diego; a sultry rendition of the Peggy Lee hit “Fever,” in which Jennifer Moore alternates between vocals and trumpet; and stand-up routines peppered with sharp-tongued observations about lesbian and gay life by Carmela Nudo and David Pavao.

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But in many ways, the best act is the simplest: The grandfatherly Dick Post delivers a brief but poignant overview of lesbian and gay history, as woven into the nation’s emergence, then sings a little ditty that urges: “Don’t despair/hang in there/and be gay.” He caps this off by unfurling an American flag.

Message received.

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Daryl H. Miller

“The Rainbow Revue,” the New Ivar Theatre, 1605 N. Ivar Ave., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Ends April 29. $25-$35. (310) 289-1875 or www. RainbowRevue.com/Tickets. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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