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STAGE WEEK

Klein Returns To L.a. Via 'The Bronx'

October 25, 1987|JANICE ARKATOV

There are a couple of things Robert Klein would like people to know up front about "Robert Klein . . . The Bronx Is Beautiful" (opening Wednesday at the Henry Fonda Theatre).

No. 1: It's not a book play.

No. 2: It's not about New York.

No. 3: He's not about New York.

"My perspective is that of an East Coast urbanite," the 45-year-old comedian admitted, "but (the material) is something all people can relate to. My dream used to be that I'd be able to go to Utah or Nebraska and do my show au naturel : not become a WASP, not hide nuances of the East. And now that's become true. When I perform, I'm just Robert Klein . "

Klein's return to Los Angeles marks the 20th anniversary of his first trip here--"and my longest run, which was at the Troubador. I should've come back years ago, but lately I tend to disdain travel. You see, I'm terribly stingy with my own time. I have a 3 1/2-year-old boy: I like being home. I like where I live. I'm less hungry. So I've turned down many series, commercials; its not exactly been an orthodox show-biz career. I'm off the beaten path, a well-kept secret. I'm not a household word. That's OK.

"But I love performing," he said. "I don't consider stand-up comedy a steppingstone to better things. Woody Allen and Albert Brooks never liked it. I do. And I go out there with the attitude that I'm going to have fun."

The basis of "Bronx," is "10 1/2 hours of material I've collected over the years--and I improvise on that. So it won't really be the same show every night. It's stream-of-consciousness: something I wrote 17 years ago I can open up and reinvestigate."

Accordingly, Klein (who was nominated for a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for his performance in the Neil Simon/Marvin Hamlisch "They're Playing Our Song," Ahmanson, 1978) is still geting mileage out of Neil Armstrong, Watergate and Marlin Perkins (ruminations on insurance, talk shows with animals and anthropomorphism)--and feeling equally confident about his own longevity.

"I've proven over the years that my comedy has substance," he said. "And it's not because I use polysyllabic words. Nothing I do couldn't be understood by an intelligent 14-year-old. And I don't pander to audiences. I love physical humor. But my desire is to make people laugh--and make points too."

The 40th anniversary of the opening of congressional hearings into alleged communist activity in Hollywood, that led to job blacklists and the "Hollywood Ten" will be marked by Harvey Perr's "Hollywood on Trial," (opening today--as part of the Mark Taper Forum's literary cabaret series--at the Itchey Foot Ristorante).

Perr, who got involved in the subject last year while doing research for the documentary "Legacy of the Hollywood Blacklist" (which aired on PBS last week), has assembled a piece "which I hope evokes the time. It's a theatrical collage of voices, dealing with the testimony--the attack and the defense--of the directors, producers and writers. A narrator puts the past and present in perspective, though I'm not as concerned with the present as I am with 1947. Still, recently Reagan made some absurd comment like, 'Why don't we have committees like we used to?'

"A lot of people lost their lives, their livelihoods," Perr said. As for similarities between this piece and Eric Bentley's depiction of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been": "I wouldn't want people to think they were getting a rehash of that," Perr noted.

"That was about the '51 trials: much more factual and moment-by-moment. Mine's all over the place, more like a verbal documentary." Enacted by a cast of four, the piece also utilizes music of the time, including one memorable ditty called "Who's Going to Investigate the Man Who Investigates the Man Who Investigates Me?"

CRTIICAL CROSS FIRE: Gore Vidal's 1960 political comedy "The Best Man" recently touched down at the Ahmanson to mixed press.

Said The Times' Dan Sullivan: "(Vidal) had the chance to do something interesting and useful with this revival and he blew it. . . . The result is an evening in a time warp--a play that neither tells it like it is or tells it like it was. No wonder (director) Jose Ferrer's actors, including Hope Lange as Mel Ferrer's wife, seem to be reading their lines off cue cards. Buddy Ebsen as the old President hardly bothers to do that. They don't believe it either."

From T. H. McCulloh in Drama- Louge: " 'The Best Man' concerns an egghead running for the presidential nomination against a smarmy opportunist. That it was thought-provoking in its day and made the playwright's sappy comment on the then-current political tides can't be questioned. But in the hands of the present company it shows up as lint-headed as it must have really been even in that innocent world, deprived of its one-note political implication."

Richard Stayton, in the Herald Examiner, found that "As an intellectual story of morality in politics, 'The Best Man' is a classic that overcomes limitations of place and time. But if director Jose Ferrer takes his time with the elegant unfolding of issues and incidents--many might say too much time--it's a relief to see actors of this quality dwelling on ideas instead of punch lines."

And from Tom Jacobs in The Daily News: "Vidal's 'updating' (he sets the play in 1988) consists largely of throwing in the name of every contemporary political and media figure he can think of and inserting some new speeches, mostly about the role of women in politics. The name-dropping seems self-conscious and silly and the speeches sometimes make no sense in the context of the play. . . . Jose Ferrer's weak, perfunctory production doesn't help things at all."

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