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‘Crawl’ runs to extremes

A flair for the peculiar distinguishes playwright Sheila Callaghan, and her “Crawl, Fade to White” at Theatre of NOTE is certainly unique. This symbolist dramedy about intergenerational lies, legacies and losses revels in the quirky non sequiturs familiar from Callaghan’s “Kate Crackernuts.” Furthermore, in “Crawl,” Callaghan finds raw emotion under the deadpan uproar, which director Michael Michetti expertly exploits.

It turns on Louise (Rebecca Gray). In the Pinteresque opening, this posh enigma assails her neighbors, Fran and Dan (Esther Ives Williams and Patrick McGowan), angling and pausing with wacky precision. Louise entrusts agoraphobic Fran and Dan with selling her antique lamp, a family heirloom. This gives Fran and Dan untoward glee.

A violently different reaction comes from renegade co-ed April (Heather Witt), first seen in savage intimacy with Nolan (Phinneas Kiyomura). April, whose eating disorder and vitriolic relationship with Louise are wildly emblematic, descends on the neighbors, Nolan in tow. Meanwhile, flashbacks reveal animal shelter drone Niko (Darrett Sanders), the key to Louise’s covert and April’s overt behavior.

Michetti’s minimalist staging imbues Callaghan’s sour-sweet poetry with cinematic fluidity. Miguel Montalvo’s white-on-white set and witty costumes allow Jason Mullen’s lighting and Rob Oriol’s sound maximum density. Kiff Scholl’s projections and Jacob Browne’s props are crucial, and the players are remarkable. Gray inhabits Louise with a refined virtuosity that recalls Helen Mirren, and her colleagues respond with panache.

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The clash of daft and depth just misses catharsis. Callaghan’s specified stakes deflect her droll abstractions, and vice versa. Nonetheless, “Crawl” has arresting elegance. Its masterful execution rewards attendance.

-- David C. Nichols

“Crawl, Fade to White,” Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Ends Nov. 5. $15-$20. (323) 856-8611. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

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Whimsy in the workplace

“One West Wacker,” from Theatre Neo, refers to the street address of a once-prestigious Chicago firm where the quirky employees combine in comic slice-of-life vignettes comfortably familiar to office workers the world over. That the premise -- and the bantering exchanges resulting from it -- seems better suited to a sitcom pilot than the stage is hardly surprising, given author Wil Calhoun’s pedigree as a writer and co-executive producer of “Friends.”

“Wacker” was penned by a younger Calhoun, during a temp stint in a company mailroom. The characters and situations, drawn from his experiences there, are sure to ring a bell: The executive dating his secretary, office gossip by the coffee machine, lunchroom romance and other snapshots are captured from the whimsical, off-kilter perspective of an outsider passing through.

To Calhoun’s credit, he doesn’t stoop to condescension or cheap ridicule -- the affection for these characters are obvious.

Nevertheless, they remain mostly stereotypes. Director Joe Ochman and his 18-member ensemble attempt to invest the roles with unique charms, with uneven results. Standouts include Ray Proscia as the reluctant but dedicated heir to the family business, Virginia Schneider as his secretary and love interest, Rita Renee as his nemesis spearheading a hostile takeover attempt, and Wendy Worthington as a harried office worker.

The best scene, however, is an unrequited lunchtime flirtation, delicately played by Aimee Guichard and David Cheany, in which the relationship -- and the couple -- are not what they seem. More memorable surprises like this would make for a wackier “Wacker.”

-- Philip Brandes

“One West Wacker,” Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 19. $20. (323) 769-5858 or www.theatreneo.com. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

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