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Cash Scheme Makes for a Comic ‘Common Man’

The hard-luck guys in Matthew Klein’s new comedy “The Common Man” need cash and a reason to get out of bed each morning. Success on these fronts might give them something they need still more: self-respect.

So when a moneymaking scheme comes along, they sign on, even though it means doing a little job for the mob. The resulting mayhem leaves them holding the bag--two, actually, both full of rotting parrot carcasses--in a funny, frenetic staging at the Met Theatre.

The nervous hypochondriac Leonard (Carl J. Johnson) is a would-be screenwriter who’s rooming temporarily with his buddy Peter (Gregory Littman), a towering, tough-looking guy who dreams, improbably, of becoming a Sinatra-like crooner. They share a shabby apartment in present-day Brooklyn that designer Bo Crowell has envisioned as a place where no two pieces of furniture match and a can of Raid stands ready atop the refrigerator.

The roommates are at wit’s end when their none-too-trustworthy acquaintance Japs (playwright Klein) bursts in, talking a mile a minute about how he’s found the half-million dollars to finance a business proposition for all of them. But first, they must deal with the parrots, a mob baby-sitter (Art LaFleur, wonderfully placid yet lethal) and Japs’ doofus brother, Stanley (Kevin Brief).

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The stress frequently launches someone at someone else’s throat in the propulsive staging by Stuart K. Robinson (best known for directing very different material: Charlayne Woodard’s “Pretty Fire”). The action takes an unfortunate turn toward dopey psychological drama in the second act, but until then, it’s “The Sopranos” crossed with “WWF Smackdown,” “Fear Factor” and a bit of “I Love Lucy.”

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“The Common Man,” Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends March 2. $20. (323) 957-1152. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

Daryl H. Miller

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A Perfunctory Mystery in Christie’s ‘The Hollow’

As Agatha Christie mysteries go, “The Hollow” is a prototypical specimen, serving up all the requisite whodunit ingredients: a remote English country manor, a menagerie of suspects with an abundance of motives, clues and red herrings, and, of course, a murder.

Dame Agatha had a knack for making homicide a tidy business, and a by-the-book staging by Jon Berry for the Woodland Hills Theatre keeps even the onstage incidents of foul play within polite boundaries.

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Naturally, the victim (Tom Hyer) is a thoroughly reprehensible cad who comfortably deserves his fate, and after the obligatory plot twists things get neatly wrapped up with minimal burden to the taxpayers.

In adapting her 1946 novel for the stage, Christie seemed determined to strip away any distinguishing marks. Most significantly, she replaced her popular hero, the eccentric Hercule Poirot, with an entirely generic Inspector Colquhoun (a non-comedic Dudley Moore-ish presence played by Frank Collins), who remains doggedly one step behind events.

Other than an impressively elaborate garden-room set by Victoria Profitt, what most distinguishes this production is the size of its cast, 13, which handily serves the company’s community objectives. Go if you know someone in it, but be aware that performances remain pretty consistently at a community theater level, with Collins, Greg Ungar, Amanda Bauman and Veronica Krestow the noteworthy exceptions. Accents are all over the map--few, alas, in the vicinity of England.

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“The Hollow,” West Valley Playhouse, 7242 Owensmouth Ave., Canoga Park. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Ends March 2. $18. (818) 884-1907. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.

Philip Brandes


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