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Stage Beat

Digby Group Promising In 3 One-acts

October 02, 1987|RAY LOYND

The Digby Group is a self-styled, largely unknown Los Angeles troupe making an ambitious foray with three challenging one-acts at the Flight Theater. Among them is an early Sam Shepard play produced locally for the first time.

The sharpest achievement in "An Evening With the Digby Group" is far removed from Shepard, though. That distinction belongs to playwright Horton Foote's Depression-era "Blind Date," which is richly calibrated by director Clay Crosby.

Actress Susannah Blinkoff is startlingly credible and funny as an iconoclastic teen-ager resisting conformity. As her arranged date, actor Dean Howell is the quintessential nervous hayseed.

They are both marvelously focused performances, full of bottled-up emotion. As the play's authority figures, Nancy Osgood and Phil Reeves strongly augment this crackling domestic hearth.

Shepard's work is "4-H Club," one of the playwright's hallucinatory, underground one-acts (first produced in 1965 at the Cherry Lane in New York). Under the co-direction of Cinda Jackson and Bernie White, the production captures a surreal and threadbare world--in this case, three errant guys in a dilapidated building.

(Shepard once said, "I'm pulled toward images that shine in the middle of junk." Here a gargantuan mound of video tape and the image of unseen mice underscore that description.)

Actors Rick Dean, Bernie White and Digby Group founder John Digby Lewis are subterranean urchins. A tough-going but revealing curiosity from one of this generation's dominant playwrights.

The other one-act, Martin Epstein's "3 Variations on the Theme of Pain," originally produced at the Padua Hills festival in 1983, is a murky and loud, obtuse discourse between two young women (Debra Dusay and Julia Fairbanks) on a badminton court.

In summary: promising work from an intrepid band of actors.

Performances are at 6472 Santa Monica Blvd., Fridays through Sundays, 8 p.m., through Oct. 18. Tickets: $8 ; (213) 462-9399.

'FINGUS' AND 'AWKER'

Playwright-director Frederick Sauls' "Fingus" and "Awker" are fractured views of human nature, pointy black comedies that wed jocularity and cynicism in a way that the anarchic Joe Orton might have enjoyed.

Sauls, who not so incidentally is a professional painter and sculptor, writes and directs with strokes that are jagged, deceptive, bold.

"Awker," the finale at Sauls' Figtree Theater, is the stronger of the two one-acts, centered on a prim but suicidal tenant (nicely played by Bruce Makowski) who mistakenly takes a room in a shabby building that is actually a brothel. The dialogue has a funny elliptical quality.

The production, with gritty support from Michael John Bryson's ratty set design and Karl Goeke's rusty lighting and sound, features a performance so lifelike that it has the texture of a gob of mud: Actress Sarah Lawrence's slatternly landlady is so authentic and rich it almost throws the rest of the production off-center.

"Fingus" is a less polished piece in which telltale props--toy soldiers embattled on the living room floor, World War II maps on the walls, combat gear for the principals--spell out the message.

Centered on a jingoist and his militarily-addled family, this satire on super-patriotism might convey a topical sting if its broad abrasions were less overtly comical and strident (particularly in the raucous case of Donald Phelps' general and Makowski's entitled and retarded adult/child character).

Actress Jean Carol, who segues from a dippy 1950s prom-queen type in "Fingus" to a nail-hard, flamboyant hooker in "Awker," is impressive in two wildly divergent roles.

Performances run at 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 7:30 p.m., indefinitely. Tickets: $10-$12; (213) 463-6893.

OBSESSIONS'

The Powerhouse Theater has introduced a new Sunday menu: brunch followed by a theatrical dish called "Obsessions," a barbed comedy about fatal and near-fatal attractions.

Relationship sagas have become quite a staple of L. A. Equity Waiver theater, and this hourlong one-act by Seattle transplant Paula Atwell fluidly shifts between two love-crossed couples.

The production (the directorial debut of Ken Minault, who played the band manager in the L.A. Theater Center's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom") doesn't chart new ground, but it is wise about relationships, particularly where women are concerned.

If you're a man, that means you cringe most of the time. The male characters are earmarked by fear of rejection, nervous self-absorption and bluff, including one lover boy (muscular Sal Landi) who plays Superman. But playwright Atwell isn't being satiric.

The women's basic hang-up is fear of commitment, but they're definitely more likable and a superior species here. And actresses Lauren Russell and E. B. Moss make them believable and sympathetic.

Actor Stephen Rockwell's cautionary approach to love is so extreme that it is hard to imagine how he could ever keep a woman's interest, let alone love. Edward Paul Allen's emotional festering is not as distinctively etched, but at least he makes a decisive gesture--well, gingerly speaking.

The deck looks stacked here, boys. Will some male playwright tell it like it is? Or, shudders, are men mutants after all?

A 10-minute sketch, "Getting L.A.'d," a stylish Hollywood odyssey with a Dashiell Hammet turn by actress Moss, opens the show.

Performances at 3116 2nd St., Santa Monica, Sundays at noon, preceded by 11:30 brunch, through Nov. 8. Tickets: $10 with brunch, $6 without brunch; (213) 466-1767.

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