Theatre West, in an audacious endeavor wrenched into shape by its Writers' Workshop, is staging with grace and dispatch 10 original short plays, encapsulating 20 actors, 9 writers and 8 directors.
The production, despite enough creative hands to drive producer Andy Griggs crazy, is essentially a seamless work spanning life's moments from the embryo to intimations of death. "Lifetimes 10: Writers Play With the Puzzle" weds humor, drama and a few effortless metaphysical touches to an experience that glides before you like apparitions in a half-dream.
Nothing seems forced or chaotic. The tone and texture of the material does veer sharply into longer, more substantive pieces in the second act, as opposed to the rather precious material in the show's first hour. But by the end of the evening, the production has made its point about the connections in life (not unlike Lily Tomlin's "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe").
The lingering impression is that of a play, not 10 plays.
On the face of it, the production's inspiration (the gestation period goes back to 1984) appears linked to Shakespeare's famous seven stages of life (from Jacques' "All the world's a stage . . . " speech in "As You Like It"). Except there's no cynicism here.
Actually, the evening's curious touchstone lies in writer William Woods' "Livingston's Last Jump," a strange, alluring ringmaster-and-clown piece directed by J. Remi Aubuchon that plays like a scene out of a Fellini movie.
The show is an apt kickoff to Theatre West's 25th year of uninterrupted activity. There is also a continuous line to the wealth of contributions in "Lifetimes 10."
The theme is set immediately in the opener, Alan Eisen's "Passing Through," in which director Janet Davidson skillfully dramatizes an imaginative fantasy dealing with the fears and expectations of three embryos as they approach birth. A faintly disturbing God-like omniscience is coolly delivered by actor Tom Dahlgren as a piano player.
Throughout, the spare set design by Phil Brandes utilizes the circular geometry of Da Vinci's overlapping man and woman figures and Ric Menegat's lighting and Stephen Hewitt's sound complement the lean staging.
Betty Garrett, in four interludes called "7 Minutes of Life," including one as a baby, playfully swirls a choric motif.
And in a pair of infectious plays, "1932" by Terry Kingsley-Smith (producer Griggs directing sublime performances by Jeanne Bates and Dahlgren) and Drew Katzman's "I'm Tired of Looking for Barrymore" (Aubuchon staging an uproarious Hollywood cemetery outing between Guy Raymond's carping father and Katzman's patronizing son), the production finds its sturdiest moorings.
Performances at 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday, 7 p.m., through March 9 (213) 851-4839.