Cast elevates tale of screenwriters

Gavin is, in a sense, torn between two lovers. He's dating sexy, dynamic Mandy, but his infatuation with her is putting a strain on a relationship of much longer standing: his screenwriting partnership with his best friend, Arnie.

Jealousy and reprisals ensue in Rick Bitzelberger's "Blockage," a hilarious, all-too-human saga about essentially decent people who -- in the grip of sudden, overpowering emotion -- betray everything they hold dear. Well-received during a month of pre-holiday performances, the show reopens tonight for an extended run at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks.

Ideas are flowing freely as Arnie (Charles Klausmeyer) and Gavin (Rob Kahn) work on a script one afternoon at the guest house that Arnie rents in Hancock Park. In terms of looks or style, these scruffy, sedentary guys are almost painfully average -- a source of much of the insecurity that follows. But when they're writing, they're like NBA superstars, tossing notions back and forth until they're in position for the perfect layup.

A phone call from Mandy interrupts the magic. Gavin rushes away; Arnie feels jilted. From then on, the troubles just keep accruing as Mandy (Megahn Perry) becomes a hurricane-force distraction and secrets begin to pile up. From the sidelines, perpetually stoned pal Lewis (Jeff Fischer) watches fretfully as Arnie and Gavin say and do things that can only end in heartache.

With a bit of "Odd Couple" looniness here and some "Hurlyburly" bad behavior there, "Blockage" isn't the most original script on the planet, and its arbitrary, unsatisfying resolution could stand some rethinking. But Bitzelberger -- a staff writer for MTV's "Undressed" whose "Benchmarks" was previously seen on the L.A. stage -- has a sharp eye for detail and a good ear for comedy (a pair of performance pieces for Mandy, who fancies herself a "slam poet," are audience favorites, as is a compact commentary on the Krispy Kreme phenomenon).

The playwright benefits from sharp acting, acute direction (by Jeff Hare) and nicely detailed design (especially Ashley Vaughn's set). The result is, essentially, a comic soap opera. It's fluff, but fluff of a very high order.

-- Daryl H. Miller

"Blockage," Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends March 2. $20. (818) 734-3085. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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