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STAGE BEAT

'Opera': Battle Of The Sexes Within

March 13, 1987|DON SHIRLEY

An earlier version of John Fleck's "Psycho Opera" was called "I Got the He-Be-She-Be's." It is a much better title, for it not only describes the theme of the piece--the battle between the male and female halves of one personality, named Leyland--but it also suggests the frenzied yet flip quality of Fleck's performance.

Perhaps the title was changed to "Psycho Opera" to emphasize Fleck's singing of Steve Moshier's score, as well as to indicate that Leyland's sexuality is divided to the point of psychosis. Though the piece is spoken as much as sung, it does give Fleck ample opportunity to show off his vocal range--from a hearty though somewhat unfocused basso for the male voices to a well-controlled falsetto for the female ones.

Still, Moshier's little melodies, full of beeps and doodles, are not the most memorable feature of "Psycho Opera." Registering more strongly are a few visual images that border on the sensationalistic.

For example, a macho -obsessed Leyland, on videotape, makes love to a feminine Leyland, who is spread-eagled in front of the TV screen. Or a pompadoured TV evangelist (also played by Fleck) preaches hate against AIDS victims while the wispy female Leyland listens tremulously.

At the end, Leyland apparently undergoes an operation that irons his personality into a neutered, decompressed spouter of vacant epigrams. Finally the writing of the piece begins to match the quality of the performance.

Generally, though, the text's notions of male and female are so caricatured that it's easy to dismiss Leyland as a lunatic, whose particular fetish is the Kennedy family. And it's just as easy to dismiss the piece as nothing more than a showcase for the technical skills of Fleck, director David Schweizer and video artist Norman Yonemoto.

Performances are at the Wallenboyd, 301 Boyd St., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., through April 11 (213) 629-2205).

'POLO LOUNGE'

Three women, eating lunch at a chichi joint, engage in gossip, business, reminiscences and musical fantasies. Although the play is Hollye Levin's "Polo Lounge," at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, the situation is almost identical to that of the sublime "Three Postcards," which recently closed at South Coast Repertory. Yet the difference in quality is vast.

The characters in "Polo Lounge" are too easy to read. Though two are from Hollywood and the third is a visitor from St. Louis, all of them feel wasted and desperate--in ways that we've heard in 100 other scripts and songs. We get the point early in the play, and nothing else develops--despite glimmers of wit in the dialogue and lyrics.

The same sense of stasis paralyzes Mitch Hara's direction. The women seldom leave their seats. Fantasies, which were so fluidly staged in "Three Postcards," are here sung by "alter egos," arbitrarily played by different women. The songs are in a hip, bluesy style, which fits the skills of the singers (Julie Griffis, Debbie D.) better than it fits the characters.

Performances are at 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills, supposedly at 10:45 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, although last Friday's show began at 11:20 p.m.--and ended at 12:45 a.m. (213) 466-1767).

'ONE NIGHT STAND'

Also at the Beverly Hills Playhouse is "One Night Stand," a rather shoddy specimen from the "Mr. Goodbar" era--when singles were worried that their pick-ups might be maniacs, not that they might carry AIDS.

Carol Bolt's would-be thriller is a lifeless, mechanical affair, not helped at all by Dennis Lamour's staging. For example, the terrified prey overlooks several easy opportunities to escape. If this was a problem in the script, Lamour should have corrected it.

The performances are one-dimensional. Sandra Will Carradine pants and pouts, while John Trotter speaks in a jumpy, punchy style that quickly grows tiresome. Leupold's set manages to be abstract yet cluttered, with details that serve no purpose. One wonders if the time spent in striking it contributed to the delay in beginning "Polo Lounge" last Friday.

"One Night Stand" is at 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Fridays through Sundays at 8:30 p.m., through March 29 (213) 466-1767).

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