What if they gave a farce and no one knew the rules? You might have something close to Michael Norell and Richard Lenz's "Dirty Words" currently being offered at Room for Theatre.
It's not that Norell and Lenz let their story of a desperate girlie-magazine airbrush artist, Arthur Bagby (Milton Tarver), run as amok as their hero does halfway through the play. There's even a through-line to their psychological premise, that the hang-ups of the father will surely be visited on the son. Covering up naughty parts is a perfectly logical job for a man raised by Nebraska's anti-obscenity commissioner (John Furlong).
Farce's own internal logic is the slippery eel the two authors grasp in hand one moment then let slink away the next. Lenz's Stanislaus, the notorious Nose Burglar (so named because his disguise is a Groucho Marx nose and mustache), has an uncommon and unjustified interest in Arthur's pad and his college-age brother Stewie (Terry Correll). He hangs around, conveniently for the plot, until Arthur's fiancee Phyllis (Sarah Lilly) shows up. He's lovestruck.
This is the beginning of a string of unlikelihoods and incredulities that result in such things as Dick Yarmy's New York cop arresting nearly everyone at least once (loved ones often stand by during these moments, uttering barely a word of protest). Subtleties of character empathy are lost in a tossed salad of confused and contradictory motivations.
Case in point: Could not Arthur, backed by Phyllis, just throw all these strangers out of his apartment right from the start? He's a paranoiac with five locks on his door, after all. There goes the plot, but even mad farce runs on a central nervous system of sense.
Joe Orton always reminded us of that, and you feel Orton's ghost running around here (this is a sex commentary as much as it is a sex comedy), trying to sharpen things up. Tarver is sufficiently able to show how Arthur got to this point in his career, but he doesn't interpret Arthur's internal crisis (he loses his job, love, everything) so we can get a glimpse of something beyond what Norell and Lenz have written. Lilly is the perfect librarian, while Robert Nadder as a shrink with fetishes comes closest to Orton-like clarity.
Lenz's verbose burglar is simply unbelievable. Alice Borden does what she can with a hooker who falls for Arthur. Arthur ? Do even Norell and Lenz buy this?
Geoffrey Rinehart's very competent lights cast down on the usual fully appointed Room for Theatre set (by Gary L. Wissmann.)
Performances at 12745 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, run Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays, 2:30 and 8 p.m. until Aug. 8; (818) 509-0459.
'GROUNDLINGS DU MOULIN ROUGE'
Knocking the Groundlings is, it seems, tantamount to knocking the Statue of Liberty for its costume design. The Groundlings Theatre clearly has become L.A.'s nonpareil improv mecca, providing a venue for countless rising comedians. But whether they've put together a real show with their new revue, "Groundlings du Moulin Rouge," isn't as clear.
Only the first skit is a spoof of things Gallic (we're notified of such), and its fitful pace isn't the way to get things going. Pace, in fact, was nowhere in sight last Saturday, with piece lurching to piece, marked by an occasional laugh. Rebecca Bonar and Mindy Sterling's bit on Century City temps was typical: a funny start, and then the thing is run into the ground. Kathy Griffith's well-prepared Bel-Air princess captured a voice and world, but only Jim Jackman's outrageous satire of Disney's Lincoln invented something truly new. Jackman was consistently the most inspired performer of the evening, making maximum advantage of his broad physicality.
Even he, though, could not save the improvs, which never took flight. Some nights, it's just that way, and this was one of those nights. What it appeared to be a night for, as well, was a lot of self-promotion.
The show was commonly interrupted for pitches, and it climaxed with a "sneak preview" snippet of an upcoming major Groundlings work, "Psycho: The Musical." To see the rest, you'll have to come back. From what we saw, you might not want to.
Performances at 7307 Melrose Ave., Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 and 10 p.m.; runs indefinitely; (213) 934-9700.
"Cymbeline," that romantic reverie of the older Shakespeare, is back for a rare visit. Alas, the king is shacked up at the Globe Playhouse, which means we get a cloddish reading of the play, spiced at moments with a couple of miraculously energetic performances--miraculous, for being surrounded by the amateurism that's become almost a physical law at this theater. Sami Kamal's production stays true to tradition.