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'Pride and Joy' at Theatre 40 / 'Ezra Pound' at Company of Angels 'Diary of a Scoundrel' at West Coast Ensemble / 'Brothers' at ICCC

November 20, 1987|ROBERT KOEHLER

This viewer is still deciphering why Monte Merrick titled his new play, "Pride and Joy." Pride may be what Bridget and Vince (Krisann Keane and Will Nye) felt at the birth of their baby--but what do they feel now that the child has accidentally died? Joy does not exactly describe the emotions of their only friends, Mark and Karen (J. David Krassner and Viveca Parker), whom they invite to stay at their posh eastern Pennsylvania house.

Quickly, Mark and Karen find out why they're the couple's only friends: the bereft pair smother acquaintances with gifts. But gifts on Bridget and Vince's terms. Like an entertaining evening with the I Ching. Or a nice night meditating. Bridget and Vince are a two-person New Age movement.

That's where Merrick inserts his humorous material, but it wouldn't be quite accurate to call "Pride and Joy" a comedy. Mark and Karen, being doubting Thomases when it comes to things of the spirit, are terrified to see their friends take a trip with the intention of meeting alien visitors. Especially when they're serious.

This is satire with sadness, since it's obvious that Bridget and Vince's whirlwind tour of the cosmos is sublimated grief. Yet the satirical target is big, familiar and safe, and Mark and Karen take far too long to get a rein on their lives. The big house (Dan Dryden did the state-of-the-art chrome and brick glass set) and the Mercedes are great toys, but not enough to keep them there fourteen months.

Too, the New Age stuff becomes boring, as Merrick sends us through every best-selling trend. He, and the cast, are at their best when the focus is on how they all hide their feelings. Keane and Nye are pure, white-washed earnestness, and Krassner and Parker transmit genuine confusion as to how to say no to desperate friends.

The play's 14-scene structure is full of fits and starts with no payoff, subverting director John Henry Davis' attempts at a cumulative dramatic impact.

Performances are at Theatre 40 , 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills High School, Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 2 and 8 p.m., until Dec. 13. Tickets: $8-$12.50; (213) 465-0070.

'Exile of Ezra Pound'

Ezra Pound is an interesting subject for a play, but J. Michael Dieffenbach hasn't written the play that conveys the enormity of Pound's ideas and influences. Yet not until Hugh Kenner's 1971 "The Pound Era" was there a book that did that job. Pound may be too impossibly big to edit down for the stage.

The editing job that is "The Exile of Ezra Pound" at Company of Angels is a Cliff Notes version without some of the important notes. The play works in flashback, from St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C., where Pound was a psychiatric prisoner after World War II (he did radio broadcasts for Mussolini). It's a very old-fashioned way to tell a life story, and it also reinforces the cliche of the crazed, disturbed artist (though Paul Michael Brennan as Pound does his level best to counter that cliche).

As Dieffenbach emphasizes, Pound was the man who made sure James Joyce (Joseph Whipp), T. S. Eliot (James Kelton) and Ernest Hemingway (Ken Hanes, alternating with Scotty Sachs) got published when they were hungry.

But Pound's important friends also included artist/painter Wyndham Lewis, sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, linguist Ernest Fennelosa, poet William Carlos Williams--the list goes on and on, and none of them are mentioned in the play. Nothing on Pound's "Vortex" movement, which ushered in modernist poetry. Nothing on Pound and the Chinese language, perhaps the single greatest influence on his own verse.

Courtroom scenes (Pound on trial for treason) or blow-outs with Robert Frost (a very minor figure in the poet's life) make perhaps good drama, but not as played here under Richard J. Nierenberg's direction. Moreover, they warp the true story, especially when many of the facts are left out.

What's left in are awkward-sounding scenes of the artists praising each other and readings from the most familiar lines from Yeats (Harvey Vernon, in an ultra-serious reading), from the last page of "Ulysses," and only a little from Pound's own "Cantos."

Nothing better epitomizes what's wrong with the approach than the lengthy scenes in Parisian cafes. They're the romantic image we hold of the literary '20s. But in fact, Paris was Pound's home for only four years; he far preferred Italy. Myths are hard to break.

Performances are at 5846 Waring Ave., Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., indefinitely. Tickets: $10-$12; (213) 466-1767.

'Diary of a Scoundrel'

Egor Dmitrich Glumov (Andrew Philpot) is your basic opportunistic prig, flattering the powerful, taking advantage of the gullible--a hero of the czar's time. No wonder Russia had a revolution.

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