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The Witty Fun Of 'Midnight Madness'

July 18, 1986|RAY LOYND

"Midnight Madness" is not the best-kept secret in town--it opened two months ago--but it remains a welcome surprise on the comedy-revue circuit.

The late night show at the Company of Angels is earmarked by sly wit, acting range and an ingredient uncommon in midnight stage frolics: polish.

For 90 intermissionless minutes, six men and four women in assorted formations unfurl 17 sketches, some varnished with dance and piano accompaniment.

Director Carlos Rio and producer Molly Brandenburg, who double as performers, developed the material with the other eight cast members. In the best workshop tradition, material suggests ongoing evolvement. The tone of the satire is smart but not cutting. Fluid transitions convey a discipline that unobtrusively sets sail to the midnight hour (actually 11:30 p.m.-1 a.m.).

Among the cast, Steve Mazur (a Clark Kent look-alike), J.C. Wendel (a Terri Garr look-alike), Chris Schulte (an Everyman), and James Doucette (who uncorks a convincing Bruce Springsteen) render pen-and-ink characterizations. Theatergoers should find a connection or two among the others: Mark Steen, Corky Omine, Melinda McCarthy and Rio and Brandenburg. Robert Garrett is the sprightly pianist.

Performances at 5846 Waring Ave., Hollywood, 11:30 p.m. Saturday, through Aug. 30 (213) 246-4744.


Playwright Jay B. Laws' first full-length play uses the Dorothy/Oz/Kansas paradigm to fashion a psychological drama at Actors Alley Repertory Theater.

Opening words hint at some psychic current aflutter in the mind of a young woman. But then events turn Kansas-dreary as the frustrated and ripening heroine grapples for air in the oppressive cage of a small hotel in Kansas.

A stranger checks into the hotel, a self-described magician and charmer. A slow-poke of a smitten mechanic vies for the girl's attention, and a frowning, Bible-toting guardian plods restlessly.

The realistic interiors (designed by Renee Hoss), the aura of heat (lighting by Ann-Marie Archbold) and the lassitude at first suggest other plays--William Inge, or "The Rainmaker" revised--and begin to cloud the first act.

The second act blows all that away with a resolution that mixes sexual fantasy, schizophrenia and the return of Dorothy (the heroine's real name) to the real plains of her life.

The ending risks appearing pat but it actually works on the level of a psychological mystery. This is a deliberate production, directed by Alan Woolf, with well-crafted performances by Phyllis Hamlin as the girl, Dale Kleine as the outsider, Molly McClure as the adopted mother, and a chiseled role by John Stark as the bumpkin.The aims are not pretentious. And the ending requires the patience to realize that a fantasy life can be more real than real life.

Performances at 4334 Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 8 p.m., Fridays through Sundays, through Aug. 16 (818) 986-7440.


This is a family drama that breathes despite a shambling structure that suggests a broken- down bicycle--the spokes and handlebars and frame are all over the family garage.

Playwright Glenn Hopkins and his cast of urban and familial plight bring a rawness to this kitchen-sink material that catches you with its alternating energy. That's because enough of the writing and acting is sufficiently abrasive to echo family life in the last three decades. The people here are more curiously real than their real-life popularized counterparts, the '60s' Santa Barbara Loud family, immortalized in that verite series of TV documentaries.

The difference in this corrosive two-act play is that Hopkins, who also directs and produces, is not writing from a '60s liberal viewpoint. Some of these characters really stink up the joint. The cocaine habit of the central youth, strongly conveyed by an actor (Brent Pfaff) who manages to effectively overcome his beach blanket/"GQ" looks, is the play's chief dramatic device. And the non-exploitive but true-to-the-bone dramatization of one nice guy's habit is quietly moving enough to warrant this play a pitch in the literature of drug-abuse clinics.

Ultimately, though, the play is not about drugs but a value system that destroys families. Among the nine-family characters, the four brothers are the anchor of this domestic pit. Jon Planitz, Mark Gillick and Henry Harris give sharp support to protagonist Pfaff as the embattled/loving siblings.

Production is full of seams--in fact, it's artless--but it's a Phoenix, too, rising from its own ashes.

Performances at 1157 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood, 8:30 p.m., Saturday, and 3 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, through Aug. 17 (213) 462-9070.


This production at the Skylight Theater is OK. Acting is focussed, the bus drivers' lounge looks metallic and scruffy enough, and the painted dome of a Southwest desert backdrop sets the proper tone. But the play itself is not arresting. You mights call it style over content.

Just not much earthshaking happens here: white prejudice against Latinos, a forlorn young woman's desperate search for her identity, the inevitable end of the drivers' livelihoods. These threads are interwoven but they marshal dramatic tension only sporadically. And playwright Tony Jason Stafford's central mystery about the woman's need to hover around the lounge is really the stuff of soaps.

But Ritch Brinkley's burly driver is a Falstaff of a performance, a rich, boisterous glob of humanity. Rex Ryon's bigoted and slickly callow driver, and Christina Hart's sad/cheery figure are ably etched, with competent support from Marco Lopez and Tom Wheeler. But a terribly uneventful first hour is never overcome by the candor that follows.

Performances at 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Hollywood, 8 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays, runs indefinitely (213) 874-3678.

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