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STAGE BEAT

'Showstoppers!' Looks To Broadway

July 10, 1987|RAY LOYND

"Showstoppers!" is a bright patch of cabaret theater. The 18 numbers represent the cullings of so-called showstopping Broadway tunes, several of which are little known or remembered outside the context of their original musical staging.

The supper club atmosphere at the 50-seat Rudolpho's Club Valentino is apt, and the talent is vocally and dramatically vivid. The show's momentum and lyrical line artfully avoid the sense of a ragtag, revue collection of unrelated numbers.

The extrapolation of knock-out moments from musicals even if the numbers had no public life of their own is the concept of producer/director Michael Chapman. He originally staged the stinging comedy musical satire, "Forbidden Broadway," a big success at the Comedy Store four years ago and now in its sixth year in New York.

This time Chapman is not lampooning Broadway sacred cows but delivering the original goods. Dinah Lenney and Maureen Mershon deliver delectable duets of the bittersweet "Fran and Janie" from "Is There Life After High School?" and of the pungent "The Grass Is Always Greener" from "Woman of the Year."

Chapman's company is 10-strong but only four members perform on a given evening, with others in alternating turns. Chapman's musical arrangements are animated by musician/conductor Tomie Reeves, drummer Jerry Conger and bassist Paul Lewolt. At the show reviewed, the male duo, Bill Malone and Paul Haber, were vibrant on such solos as "You Must Meet My Wife" from "A Little Night Music" (Malone) and "Private Schwartz" from "Funny Girl" (Haber).

Importantly, these numbers work on their own; familiarity with the musicals is a mere bonus. A bigger bonus would be a program that identified the titles of the songs.

Black tie works fine for the men, but the women's apparel lacks panache and style. Chapman's time is shortly up at Rudolpho's, and the show will move to another as yet undetermined venue.

Performances at 2500 Riverside Drive are Thursday and Sundays, 8:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, 9:30 p.m., through July 19. Tickets: $12; (213) 465-0070.

'THE TWO-CHARACTER PLAY'

Tennessee Williams' self-described nightmare years of the '60s found cathartic expression in his fantasy drama about a brother and sister acting team whose company has abandoned them in a tattered theater as remote as the Arctic Circle.

That play, first entitled "Out Cry" when it lasted only 12 performances on Broadway in 1973, reverted to its original title, "The Two-Character Play," when it opened locally at the Callboard in 1977 (with Scott Wilson and Dorothy Tristan). Williams was in attendance that night, and he excitedly told this reporter: "There's more of me in this play than anything I've ever written."

It was then, as now, too personal.

This background to a rarely produced and hellish Williams' play puts the Theatricum Botanicum production in helpful perspective. Actresses Ellen and Kate Geer have brashly tackled the drama as the real-life sisters they are. They have turned the character of the brother into another sister--an intriguing switch that actually heightens the mirror effect of this self-revealing work.

The gowned Kate Geer as the histrionic Clare and the trousered Ellen Geer as the tense, insecure Felice (heretofore the brother) are superb in showering each other with an almost Gothic sense of fear, failure and confusion. They swirl around the stage and enact the play within the play (art imitating life) of two sisters psychologically locked in a mansion.

It's not the production's fault (the director is Rae Allen) that Williams' personal exorcism only sails between the actors, never out to the audience. But for tour de force sibling acting, it's ripe to see the Geer sisters at war and love. Williams and his own sister, Miss Rose, come spiritually to mind. The playwright, we feel, would be chuckling and approving.

Performances at 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd. are Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m., through Aug. 8. Tickets: $12.50; (213) 455-3723.

'ASIAN EYES'

The allure of an Asian muse drifts through this poetic, interdisciplinary collaboration at the Pipeline's Wallenboyd Theatre.

Ten performers, in a richly stylized production conceived and directed by performance artist Arjuna, integrate traditional and contemporary Asian forms of music, sculpture and dance with monologues and video images that blend Godzilla, Hiroshima and the internment camps in California.

The effect is both theatrical and touchingly beseeching, ironic and quasi-mystical. At bottom, the intent is unification of spirit and purpose.

We all have "Asian Eyes," the production seems to be saying, an idea meant both broadly and specifically in the figure of American Navajo Geri Keams. However, her monologue about the creation and dark progression of the earth ("Coyote's Creation") is too didactic and stiffly delivered to fulfill a context otherwise always aurally and physically afloat.

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