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Stage Reviews : Razor-edge Production Of 'Hold Me'

January 16, 1987|CATHY DE MAYO

Jules Feiffer takes a scalpel to contemporary angst in "Hold Me!" at the Garden Grove Community Theatre in a razor-edge production that keeps the humorist's sharp, satiric incisions cleanly evident. The 1977 collection of sketches adds up to a thoughtful, funny, often surprising evening of one-two punches delivered by an extraordinary five-member cast that is called upon to produce dozens of characters out of thin air in the space of a split-second pause.

Feiffer's acidic comments on the Me Generation and modern neuroses remain as bleakly applicable in 1987 as they were in 1977. Many of his familiar comic strip characters are here, including the hapless Bernard, the battle-scarred veteran of the war between the sexes. Mark Cook deftly sends Bernard careening around confusion, anger, despair and detachment in an attempt to make sense out of personal relationships. Also on hand is the tireless modern dancer who defiantly contends, "Nothing else gets better; why should I?" Nancy Von Schimmelmann gives her the required earnest self-absorption without overstating her case.

Beverly Turner especially is effective. She uses her expressive face to move from vapid to voracious to crazy to clinging. Her gift for physical comedy is highlighted in sketches about an obsessively dependent wife and about a robot invented to bolster male esteem. Turner then switches gears for a poignant vignette about a woman whose husband is dying (and she neatly sets up one of Feiffer's wicked punch lines). Ricci Thomas is another proficient chameleon who can assume a dizzying spectrum of female identities at staggering speed.

Carlos Sanchez sketches in his assorted male cartoon characters with bold strokes; he gives them room to emote, yell, sweat and even explode. In one of the play's best moments, he becomes a paranoid baseball pitcher taking on the entire stadium in a staring contest. The sole jarring note is his stand-up comic approach to a couple of characters.

Director Robert Sternberg has paced this show with infinite care, preserving the moments that need time, then hurling one of Feiffer's left hooks and allowing just enough time to let the punch line sink in before segueing into the next sketch. The abrupt changes suit the biting edge of Feiffer's humor and the spliced-together structure of the piece.

This cool brand of comedy is matched by a very cool, very contemporary pastel set, credited to Pacific Sets--the perfect post-modern roost for these '80s neurotics.

"Hold Me!" will play through Jan. 31 in the Garden Grove Community Theatre's recently refurbished playhouse at Eastgate Park, 12001 St. Mark St. Information: (714) 897-5122.

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