The voice of a keenly observant satirist is heard throughout "Buy the Bi and Bye," at the Richmond Shepard. Yet Felton Perry's play isn't as sharp as it must have been 10 years ago at Los Angeles Actors' Theatre. Some of the attitudes he skewers are not as prevalent as they were then; others have been roasted so often in the intervening years that they're no longer fresh for the fire.
Perry takes us to an "off-mainstream" theater in 1976, where a mostly black cast gathers to rehearse a play by a white schizophrenic writer-director. It's a lurid saga of a black family whose son brings home a white bride, complete with baby.
At first the comedy arises from the apparent gap between the white man's fantasies and the reality of the black actors' lives. But then we learn that the cheap melodrama is rooted in an actual chapter in the lives of the director and one of the cast members.
Stereotypes turn somersaults; the writer of the play-within-the-play knows more than appearances might indicate. Still, the fact remains that his play is terrible--so terrible that its extended passages eventually pall and begin to drag down "Buy the Bi and Bye" itself.
Robert Alford's staging feels spontaneous, if not always snappy. All of the actors contribute winning moments, none more so than playwright Perry as the group's racial militant and as the interior play's wandering daddy. Brad David Berwick turns the schizo's loony tunes into unexpectedly sweet melodies, and Joahn Webb is warm and sturdy as the most sensible character on stage.
At the very least, "Buy the Bi and Bye" offers reason enough for someone to give Perry a forum from which he can bite into the '80s. Performances are at 6468 Santa Monica Blvd., Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m.; (213) 462-9399.
'ON THE DISORIENT EXPRESS'
For his "On the Disorient Express," Daniel Harris selected as stale a group of subjects as you're likely to find in a comedy routine. He does a nerd, a countrified uncle, a guru and a druggie in Act I; in Act II he portrays comedy's umpteenth lounge singer and such easily impersonated celebrities as Peter Allen and, yes, Jimmy Durante. One almost expects to see a James Cagney or an Ed Sullivan.
Although Harris has the required physical skills, none of these characters are performed with a slant original enough to justify the rehashing, and the unifying narration--by Harris as the nerd--adds nothing of interest. The ratio of laughs to jokes is far too wide.
However, there are glimmers of hope near the end, in an amusing parody of greeting-card verse and in the creation of a Latina Miss America, Carmelita Rojas. Finally, here is a character whose combination of elements hasn't been done to death.
Performances are at Theatre 40, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills, Mondays through Wednesdays at 8 p.m., through July 22; (213) 277-4221.
The title "Psych Games" is certainly descriptive. Gerald Lemons has written a series of mental contests between a pushy psychologist and one of her new patients. The plot takes so many quick switchbacks that the characters are somewhat shortchanged, yet Lemons does keep us mildly interested in how it all turns out.
Unfortunately, when I saw "Psych Games" last Sunday, at Inner City Cultural Center, the momentum collapsed at the climax, when a gun failed to go off as rehearsed. Five blank minutes followed, filled with furtive whispering from backstage, before the action resumed. At least it gave Betty Bridges and Michele Lamar Richards the opportunity to show us they're game troupers as well as solid actors.
Bridges and Richards perform only on Sundays at 3 p.m.; Marla Gibbs and Angela Gibbs play the same roles on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Art Evans directed for Crossroads Theatre, 1308 S. New Hampshire Ave.; (213) 387-0801).
Let's see now. Two 30ish TV writers have moved to the Tennessee hills with their mutual girlfriend--don't ask why. One of them is dying of cancer, but first he wants to impregnate the girl; everyone thinks this is a great idea. He also takes a fatherly interest in the blind boy who lives nearby, though the boy's sister makes anti-Semitic remarks and his brother-in-law is a mean redneck who was responsible for blinding the boy in a hunting accident. Our dying hero helps the blind boy set up an aviary, matches him up with a sweet little Braille teacher, and gives him his very own copy of a "Love Boat" script. . . .
Need I say more? Only to add that Bruce Reisman's script--with its pointless wisecracks, relentless sensitivity talk and stagey solos under the spotlights--is as overdone as his story. This stupefying stew is called "On Stilts," and it plays the Off Ramp Theatre, 1953 Cahuenga Blvd., Thursdays through Sundays at 7 p.m., through Aug. 3; (818) 905-9382.