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Stage Reviews : Fringe Festival : 'Now And Then'

September 18, 1987|ROBERT KOEHLER

A playwright makes a plan: Set the first play of a double bill in the high-tech present and the second in the '50s, just as television was hitting its stride. Each will have different characters, even different tones. Start with laughs, then hit 'em with something more serious.

Ambitious? Absolutely. Impossible? Likely. But that's not enough to stop Willard Simms from trying it out at the Mainstage Theatre with "Now and Then."

It's two one-acts in search of a purpose. "Now" is your usual Luddite comedy/nightmare about an employment office manager (Michael Weir) who loses his heart to "Leslie," his beloved computer (Dan Stock's design is too cheaply devised to be taken as a fantasy image). Simms is out to make some ironic points on what makes a good software-age worker, but his comedy writing is quite flavorless.

"Then" is more embarrassing, because it's set on turf Simms supposedly knows something about: a theater's rehearsal room.

An old man of the stage (Jim Bullock) now must stoop to giving acting lessons to a trio of kids with stars in their eyes and TV in their hearts. Before he gets them excited about the language, the old man goes on and on about how dignified theater is. His evidence: those irreverent lampooners, Moliere and Aristophanes. Is Simms kidding? Hadn't his teacher heard of Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams?

Ironically, Friday's performance was hastily canceled because a cast member had a TV commercial to do. Director James Bontempo's cast is terminally slow on the draw, though Weir's contrasting roles display some range.

Performances are at 12135 Riverside Drive, North Hollywood, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays, 5 p.m., until Oct. 4. Tickets: $10-$12; (818) 508-0786.

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