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Intense Incursions on a Fragile Domestic Truce

Are people better off knowing things they can’t do anything about--especially in relation to their spouse’s loyalty? That dilemma takes on unexpected urgency for a contemporary couple in Max Mayer’s “James and the Handless Maiden” at the Gascon Center Theatre.

Intense, committed performances drive this inaugural production by the promising LA Stage & Film theater company, although some scripting lapses remain intractable.

In the title role of James, a restaurateur on the financial and marital ropes, Kevin Kilner sports a convincing breezy charm that accounts for the popularity he enjoys despite his extreme selfishness. Initially reflecting on whether it’s better to fess up to a past infidelity or keep it forever secret, James frames the issue entirely in terms of convenience. He clearly has no regard for either honoring or sparing the feelings of his actress wife, Sarah (Catherine Corpeny). Sarah, in turn, admits to doing one thing very well in life--pretending.

Abruptly intruding on their paper-thin domestic truce is Sarah’s sister, Troy (Mary McDonnell), newly discharged from a mental institution where she’s been confined for stabbing her husband. Brittle, caustic and equipped with an unerring instinct for manipulation, McDonnell’s chillingly vengeful Troy soon precipitates a pivotal crisis for James and the metaphorically handless Sarah (the reference is to a morbid fairy tale from the sisters’ childhood).

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Caught in the cross-fire is James’ lifelong best friend, Stanley (David Starzyk), who harbors a secret attraction to Sarah and a past connection to Troy as well.

Framed by handsome production values, Randle Mell’s staging is well paced and pulls no punches in the confrontational scenes. The glaring problem, however, is the general unpleasantness of these characters. With personality traits ranging from self-deluded to self-absorbed to self-destructive, there is little reason to root for anyone onstage. Sarah, tentatively attempting to rebuild trust, asks James, “Do we go on rescuing and terrorizing each other forever?” But the real question is: Do we care?

The answer, unfortunately: Not enough.

Philip Brandes

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“James and the Handless Maiden,” Gascon Center Theatre, 8737 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Tonight, Sunday, Oct. 19, 20, 24, 25; Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Oct. 25. $20. (310) 285-9305. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

*

A Lennon

for the Faithful

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For millions of fans, the world ended with John Lennon’s death in Manhattan on Dec. 8, 1980. They get another chance to pay homage in “One Night Only” at the Stella Adler Theatre in Hollywood.

Writer-director Stephen A. Roberts’ intriguing conceit imagines Lennon (Tim Piper) performing a private concert for an invited audience. The opening finds roadies doing last-minute technical checks on Christian Struzan’s backstage setting.

A scrim drops, the turntable revolves and “Dr. Winston O. Boogie” appears, launching an explosive rendition of “Revolution.” The proceedings take Lennon through numbers charting his long and winding road to this evening. This rambling commentary battles thunderstorms, psychedelic projections and surreal voice-overs, courtesy of Tim Stratton’s lighting and Lee Harry’s sound and multimedia designs.

Piper’s vocal and visual representation of Lennon is amazing. He totally rocks out, assisted by Don Butler on lead guitar, Greg Piper on bass and Jim Marsala on drums.

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However, though catnip for acolytes, “One Night Only” does not excavate much new insight beneath its keenly designed surface. The reliance upon familiarity with Lennoniana to supply nuances may frustrate less worshipful observers, and the use of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” as accompaniment to the newsreel epilogue is not exactly fresh.

The amplification levels, though undoubtedly authentic, are unacceptable in so compact a venue, masking the lyrics and therefore blurring content. This will be immaterial to the faithful, but attendees with delicate eardrums should take precautions.

David C. Nichols

*

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“One Night Only,” Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Wednesday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. Ends Oct. 19. $25. (866) 468-3399. Running time: 75 minutes.

*

‘Hollywood’ Afire

With Titillation

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Like the underground films to which it pays homage, Michael Sargent’s “Hollywood Burning” is determined to shake things up. Taking stylistic cues from the likes of Kenneth Anger, Jack Smith and Andy Warhol, it is defiant, bewildering and titillating.

A skeptic might say, however, that those filmmakers merely used art as a cloak to see what they could get away with, and the same could be claimed of Sargent’s play in its premiere at the Evidence Room, where it leads off a repertory cycle devoted to Los Angeles writers (Justin Tanner and Peter J. Nieves are also featured) and their thoughts about Hollywood.

Sargent’s story unfolds in the satanic chapel-sadomasochistic torture chamber of a Hollywood Hills home that is outfitted, in Jason Adams and Erik Hanson’s wry design, with a sarcophagus and scary-looking medieval weapons.

This is the residence and filmmaking studio of Kenneth Angry (Tom Fitzpatrick). With mop-top hair dyed jet black and eyes rimmed with dark eyeliner, he cultivates an avant-garde image, opening those raccoon eyes as wide as they’ll go while delivering such arch statements as “I hate Hollywood, and it hates me back. It’s a perfect relationship.”

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That sort of off-kilter humor drives the first half of the story, as Angry’s former superstars L.A. Joe (Charlie Santore, playing a Joe Dallesandro type) and Nita (Liz Davies, as an Edie Sedgwick type) return to make one more film. Co-starring as their humiliation victim will be Angry’s current protege, the brainless pretty boy Puck (Jamison Haase).

Much of this is familiar territory for Sargent. Film has been his topic in such plays as “I Hate!” and “Tarantula,” with their twisted takes on classic-movie motifs, as well as in “Sweet Hostage” and “Steeltown,” about the porn industry.

The yuks turn to yucks, however, as Angry’s filmic allegory quickly devolves into a pretext for stripping the performers and having them engage in sex, blocked from audience view yet leaving little to the imagination.

The actors gamely debase themselves, and Sargent, serving as his own director, stylishly stages the action to a throbbing soundtrack. But surely there’s more humor--not to mention insight--to be drawn from underground filmmaking than Sargent delivers in this XXX-rated assault.

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Daryl H. Miller

*

“Hollywood Burning,” Evidence Room, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A. Performances resume Tuesday-Wednesday at 8 p.m.; Oct. 19 at 8 and 10 p.m. For future dates, see www.evidenceroom.com. Ends Dec. 15. $15-$20. (213) 381-7118. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.


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