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STAGE BEAT

'Chuck' Maintains A Lively Comic Pulse

July 03, 1987|DON SHIRLEY

Women who believe that male playwrights ignore them might reconsider after seeing "How Much Would Chuck?" or "Albertine in Five Times." Although the style of the two plays could hardly be more different, both playwrights focus almost exclusively on the waste of women's lives.

The women in Ebbe Roe Smith's "How Much Would Chuck?" waste their time in pursuit of a man--and this man is no prize. Chuck (Kyle Gass) is a chubby amnesiac. Jane (Sonna Chavez) finds him lying on the sidewalk and brings him home, claiming him as her own. But Cecelia (Patti Tippo) wants to share him.

While Jane is a domineering harridan, Cecelia is a squealing stereotype of girlishness (Tippo's voice lets us appreciate the artifice of Cecelia's act). Then Evonne (Cynthia Ettinger), Chuck's purported wife, shows up playing yet another traditional role: the iron-gloved society matron. She wants Chuck back.

Providing perspective are two older women: the skeptical but even-tempered Patrice (Susie Goddard) and the crotchety Granny (playwright Smith, in drag). And on the sound track (designer: Josh Abramson), we hear the advice of Dr. Toni Grant.

This bitter, biting cartoon could be read as a commentary on the contemporary man shortage. Or perhaps it's a plea for women to invest their energies in a goal more worthwhile than the vacant, uncomprehending Chuck. Whatever--it's loaded with risible little details, and Lisa Sanman's staging at the McCadden Place Theatre maintains a lively comic pulse.

Performances are at 1157 N. McCadden Place, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with an additional Saturday show at 11 p.m., but no performances on July 4. Ends July 25. Tickets: $5-$7, (213) 876-7075.

'ALBERTINE IN FIVE TIMES'

In Michel Tremblay's "Albertine in Five Times," at the Off-Main Street Theatre, five actresses play one woman. We see Albertine at age 30 in 1942, and also at ages 40, 50, 60 and 70. The Albertines talk to one another--and to their sister Madeleine--in an elaborate conversation across the decades.

At first the women hardly seem related. Perhaps in an attempt to universalize Albertine, directors Frederique Michel and Charles A. Duncombe Jr. chose actresses without much regard to physical or vocal similarities. The oldest Albertine (Eda Reiss Merin) speaks with a slight New York accent, while the middle one (Margaret Silbar) sounds Midwestern. In fact, Albertine is supposed to be French-Canadian, like Tremblay.

Albertine at 40 (Judith F. Lyons) and 60 (Billye Wallace) are down in the dumps so far that recovery would seem impossible. But Albertine at 50--and to a lesser extent, at 70--offers evidence to the contrary. The drama is in our gradual discovery of what caused such profound changes in one woman's personality. We also see how Albertine at 30 (Wendy Schenker) forecasts the storms as well as the sunny days to follow.

The directors add inobtrusive but important movement that prevents the play from becoming too static. Occasionally, though, the women move too far--out of sight though not out of earshot.

With the inconsistent casting and an ending that tries too hard to unite the five Albertines on an upbeat, "Albertine" isn't a total success. But it's fascinating that it was written by a man. Although Madeleine (Sierra Pecheur) has an (unseen) loving husband, Albertine's husband left long ago. She remains manless through four decades--yet that's the least of her problems.

Performances are at 208 Pier Ave., Santa Monica, Thursdays through Sundays at 8 p.m., through Aug. 2. Tickets: $10-$12.50, (213) 399-8105.

'CAMP'

A band of guys and gals led by Stefan Haves transform the Powerhouse into a summer "Camp" for half-grown adults on Friday nights. The tone is a mixture of nostalgia and, yes, camp. The specifics change each week.

"Camp" begins with skits and songs on camp themes. A talent show like this would be scheduled near the end of a real summer camp, after the campers knew one another. Last Friday, a couple of clever moments and stunts couldn't quell the suspicion that "Camp" would be more fun if we knew these people, too.

The level of professionalism rose immensely with the entrance of the evening's guest stars, the Reduced Shakespeare Company. Three slapstick artists presented a 20-minute "Hamlet," then condensed it down to about two minutes, then did the shorter version backwards. Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Borgeson are reminiscent of the Flying Karamazov Brothers (minus the juggling) and just as comically precise.

Next, following an amusingly muddled talk by "Ranger" Greg Burns, the audience moved outdoors for fun and games: toasting marshmallows for s'mores, "spin-art" and Popsicle stick creations at a crafts table, jacks and yo-yos and bubbles, an unusual stargazing session in one corner of the yard. About 10 minutes too long, this intermission clearly established "Camp" as a party, not a play.

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