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At The Callboard : Familiar Sentiments In Two Plays By Czech Writer

October 07, 1987|DAN SULLIVAN | Times Theater Critic

"May you fall into the outhouse just as a squadron of Ukrainians is finishing their prune stew."

Alternately, may you be forced to spend a night at the Callboard Theatre watching two plays by Ladislav Smocek.

"Labyrinth," from which the above is taken, is a Theatre of the Absurd exercise, set outside an amusement park from which there is no escape. We know the feeling.

"A Lovely Place for a Picnic" shows five disagreeable GIs on an all-night vigil in Vietnam. The point is to show that war sets good men at each other's throats, but the viewer concludes that these guys would get on each other's nerves in any situation. They certainly get on ours.

Smocek is described as a silenced Czech writer who at one time served as a dramaturg. He may have read too many books in that post. An amusement park with no exit doesn't improve on Sartre's hotel room, and a clutch of bickering soldiers doesn't take us any closer to the pointlessness of war than Norman Mailer and a hundred other novelists have done.

Director Pavlo Cerny can be thanked for cutting "Picnic," but not for choosing it in the first place--and it's still way too long. Actors Jamie Angell, Mark Bringelson, Kim Delgado, Jay Michael Fraley and Brad Pickett deserve Medals of Honor for bringing as much life to it as they do.

"Labyrinth" gets good performances from John Apicella as an incurious guard and Nathan Walpow as a fatally curious bystander. But the playing of the smaller roles makes you wince. Old people as shaky codgers in bad wigs: Was this ever funny?

Oscar Schwarz's set for "Picnic" captures the feeling of a jungle with draped netting rather than foliage: interesting. But somebody should turn down the volume on Leonora Schildkraut's bird calls and, while they're at it, kill the phone in the theater office. Pass the prunes.

Performances at 8 p.m. Sundays-Wednesdays at 8451 Melrose Place; (818) 508-4252.

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