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Stage Review : Sexual Politics In The Ways Of 'Boys And Girls'

September 04, 1987|SYLVIE DRAKE | Times Theater Writer

Tracy and Brian and Scott and Eddie and David and Esther are teen-agers with the usual grotesque fantasies about love and sex. And, of course, they can't wait to grow up and live them.

Gloria and Stella and Patty and Vinnie and Alex and Matty have grown up. But try as they may, they can't make fantasy and reality coincide. So, in Gina Wendkos' comedy of sexual politics, "Boys and Girls/Men and Women" at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, they keep trying. And trying.

The girls stranded in their libidos in the 1950s are Tracy (Dana Andersen) and Esther (Yeardley Smith), both salivating with conjecture. Tracy's the irresistible sort that the boys can't leave alone--a blond cheerleader who's getting a bit of experience.

Esther is the oddball, the egghead with the strong sense of self and wry sense of humor that the fellas love to snarl at. She lives and she learns mostly by watching.

Esther's education grows quite a lot in the course of a very long night on the rooftop when Eddie (James DiStefano), Tracy's super- macho boyfriend, indelicately tries, to everyone's stupefaction, to coerce his pals--timid David (Darren M. Modder), handsome Brian (Peter Berg) and neurotic Scott (Ron Cogan)--into giving Tracy a tumble.

The male insecurities behind Eddie's Sicilian strut may be funny and a little pat, but they're also nasty and more than a little dangerous to women. Worst of all, these Eddies tend to grow up.

By the time this one hits the '80s, he's changed his name to Vinnie. He's the only character from "Boys and Girls" who carries over into "Men and Women," the second half of Wendkos' study in sexual sparring.

Vinnie's friends are new, but the dynamics are the same. We spend another long night on the rooftop watching the life styles of the gauche and horny.

It's not easy on anyone, certainly not on women like Vinnie's girlfriend Gloria (Kathy Bell Denton), who tends to live through blondness and sexual identity alone; it's not easy on tough cookies like Stella (Janet Borrus), the one with the attitude. She gets by doing unconscious imitations of Bette Midler that scare off big guys like Alex (Kurt Fuller) who look bigger and stronger than they really are.

Only Anna (Jan Lewis) and Matty (Alan Abelew) seem relatively at ease at this all-night contest of the sexes, mainly because they are fundamentally out of it and their expectations are low. Lucky for them that they have stumbled onto each other. Lucky for them that they're two nice people who'd rather be playing chess.

This evening, however, like the one Wendkos depicts 30 years earlier is about Eddie/Vinnie and the Tracys and the Glorias he tortures and who let him. It's not all fun even if it is all games, and playwright Wendkos knows these people well. Her creations are amusing, touching, tough and desperate, but they seem to be tapping out an insistent subliminal message: Things have gotten weird --HELP!

Essentially, that's what "Boys and Girls/Men and Women" is about: the epidemic and unwelcome neurosis that has crept into male-female relations. But this is not a lecture. Wendkos knows how to listen and how to cull essentials from the verbal parries of these players--and she knows how to write exaggerated dialogue that rings absolutely true.

It's a grown-up "Breaking Away" gone sour and the reason the show is so faithful to Wendkos' commentary is most likely because she has directed it. For once, an author staging her own work (beautifully) pays off in spades.

The casting is nearly perfect, with actors as precise--and as different--as the characters demand. This is a uniformly able company. If we're still chuckling over Smith's factory-siren nasal intonations as the smart-alecky Esther, it's only because Wendkos (in a role that seems suspiciously autobiographical) has given her the play's funniest lines.

Production values are sketchy but enough, with a good rooftop set conceived by Richard Ostroff and designed by Eric H. Warren, darkish lighting by Dawn Hollings-worth, on-the-mark costumes by Lisa Lovaas and ear-splitting sound by Steven Barr. (Does it have to get that loud?)

Frank DiPalermo and Sydney Coberly also contribute solid performances as the reluctant pseudo- boy- and girlfriends of the warring principals, who meet and fall in love the old-fashioned way.

Performances at 12111 Ohio St. (near Bundy Drive) in West Los Angeles run Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays 7 p.m. through Sept. 27. Tickets: $9.50 (student rush)-$16.50; (213) 826-1626.

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