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STAGE BEAT

The Discords Abound In 'Serenade'

February 20, 1987|DON SHIRLEY

A serenade is usually smooth, sweet and short. None of these words fit "Weekend Serenade," a 150-minute hodgepodge of clashing styles that is opening the Colony's second New Play Festival.

Perhaps inspired by "Three Sisters," which he mentions in his text, Robert Canning created three cousins--young to middle-age women who reunite in Los Angeles for a family funeral.

The date is December, 1941.

It takes no sleuth to figure out which historical event will soon intrude. Yet, the intrusion doesn't matter much. The bombing of Pearl Harbor is used only to punch up an otherwise lethargic narrative.

Perhaps the weakness of his narrative dawned on Canning as he neared the completion of his play, for suddenly a big clump of plot appears in the final scene.

But it's the warring styles, more than the lopsided structure, that sink the play. Dotting this '40s comedy of manners are a slew of four-letter words, innuendoes from some lame bedroom farce, and a few somber monologues that are accompanied by disembodied, tear-jerking music.

The music, and a clever opening credits sequence, imitate '40s movies. But don't expect a handsome black-and-white deco design. With his pink-and-green striped walls, Todd Nielsen adds yet another style to the stew. The set looks more appropriate for a children's fantasy than for a home--and here the same stripes appear in two homes (one at 1928 Hillhurst, which happens to be the original address for Room for Theatre, and the other in Hancock Park).

Amid such confusion, the cast fares rather well--especially Carole Lineback as the most sheltered and sunny-side-up of the three women. Suzanne Celeste holds her own as the bitchiest of the trio, but Barbara Beckley appears uncomfortable as a playwright who, for some unexplained reason, hasn't seen her husband in four years. Nielsen directed.

Performances are at 1944 Riverside Drive, tonight and Feb. 21, March 4-6, and March 14 at 8 p.m., and on March 15 at 2 and 7 p.m.; (213) 665-3011.

'LIVE HUMANS ON STAGE'

A group called "Live Humans on Stage" might be expected to reflect a wider range of human experience than other comedy troupes. No such luck. Suzanne Kent's "Humans," at Burbank's Third Stage, are obsessed with two overdone subjects--dating and showbiz--and rarely glimpse elsewhere.

Occasionally an original wrinkle appears on the show's surface, but it never goes very deep. For example, Mike Cole plays Uncle Angus, a Scottish kiddie TV host whose show has just been canceled. The brogue and bagpipes may be fresh, but the situation is stale.

Greg Polcyn's sleazy emcee says "How ah -ya?" with an inflection that sounds just like Eugene Levy's prototype on "SCTV."

The performers have the requisite physical skills. A sketch in which Polcyn and Sam Kuglen switch emotions whenever they enter a different quarter of the stage crackled with energy Friday. Cathy Cahn appears to be the company's best chameleon.

But symptomatic of the Live Humans' lack of imagination was the way Margarita Rose stared at members of the audience who offered suggestions for an improvised sketch. She acted as if the suggestions--even the milder, more logical ones--were from beyond the pale. If you feel like an idiot for opening your mouth at an improv group, the improv is never going to take flight.

Performances are at 2811 Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; (818) 842-4755.

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