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Music Says, Does It All in Diversionary Theatre's Production of 'Disappearing Act'

December 11, 1987|NANCY CHURNIN

SAN DIEGO — They bill it as a musical, but if you go to Diversionary Theatre's "Disappearing Act," playing at the West Coat Production Company through Dec. 19, you'll be disappointed if you expect a plot, dialogue or even characters.

What that leaves is music. And those 23 songs--which constitute a world premiere of the first original musical by Michael Oster, a 27-year-old self-described director-choreographer- composer-playwright now visiting from Boston--are simply terrific.

The goal of Diversionary Theatre, as articulated by their artistic director, Thomas Vegh, is "to present works by and for the gay-lesbian community."

It seems a curiously self-limiting description. Certainly, Oster's songs deal with gay themes, but they succeed in moving from the particular to the universal in much the same way Harvey Fierstein's "Torch Song Trilogy," the Tony-award winning play about a drag queen, does.

In fact, if Fierstein wrote songs, one suspects that these melodic, full-bodied, sometimes outrageous and often bittersweet numbers about love and loss would be just the kind he would compose.

Of the three performers, Kip Niles is clearly the most professional. He moves easily from the tongue-in-cheek "Men Who Like Their Men" to "Faded Levi Jacket," in which he takes the part of a man clinging to the one memento of his late lover not deemed worth pilfering by his lover's family.

The greenest member of the three, Fred Tate, sometimes falters but is winning with the winsome "What Do Ya Know," in which he describes a romance with a man who is too good to be true. Nick Turco shines in "I Slept With a Zombie," an homage to the unresponsive lover.

On Saturday night, the understudy, David Lee Carlson, stepped in briefly and effectively as a snide vision in "Nightmare."

John-Bryan Davis, whose name seems to be inseparable from the costume credits for every small theater in town these days, has, again, come up with inventive costume ideas. Particularly amusing are his outfits for the "Shakedown in the Breakdown Lane," in which the company is dressed as drivers and their cars--from their racing gloves down to the flashlights hanging out of their pockets like headlights.

The capable musical direction by Steven Schwarz, who played the piano on the small, bare stage with a quiet, quizzical air that sometimes seemed as funny as the antics beside him. Oster did a fine job with the direction and choreography. Next time, if he gets a text to match his music, he should have quite a show.

Performances at 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays through Dec. 19 at the West Coast Production Company, 1845 Hancock St., San Diego.

'Brain Fever'

In Hollywood, there are people who hawk ideas much in the spirit that hucksters in "Guys and Dolls" sell "solid gold" watches for a dollar. Judging from Sledgehammer Theatre's production of "Brain Fever," playing at the Sixth Avenue Playhouse through Dec. 19, it looks like the young company has bought a few ideas better left on the shelf.

It's too bad because one can spy hints of gold that have yet to be panned from what is now a confusing stream of consciousness.

At the heart of this world premiere play by H.P. Taubman and Scott Feldsher is the story of a director taking a drug that he believes will allow him to film the inside of his mind, thus enabling him to make the first "psychic" movie. Instead, however, the drug is making him crazy and killing him.

This by itself is a potent starting place for a commentary on what for many is the Hollywood dream of greatness fueled and, ultimately undercut by the self-destructive appetite for sensation. All too quickly though, the script breaks down into a blithering mix of a pseudo movie star (a bisexual mock-Jimmy Stewart), a B-movie villain (an evil Nazi doctor who supplies the drug), and a stereotype of a Tennessee Williams heroine who spouts lines from "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "The Glass Menagerie."

Add to this a lean, mean producer who flies down to the set of Condomcoa (an African rubber plantation where they manufacture condoms) and stir--but don't drink unless you want to end up with a whizz-bang of a headache.

It's enough to wonder whether the brain-fever drug really exists and Feldsher, who directed the play, is using it.

It seems cruel and unusual to name most of the actors who after all, didn't stand a chance in this "Charge of the Light Brigade." Ditto the costumes and set.

The best moments are provided by the disturbing, jungle-like sound design by John Gange, Peter Huestis and Joel Nowak and the video portions, directed by Dave Cannon, on which commentators from the Tinsel Town Tattler (Elizabeth Backenstow, Philip Charles Sneed and Paul Eggington) comment on the movie production. There, at least, most of the humor is comprehensible, consistent and pretty much on target.

Performances at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Dec. 19 at the Sixth Avenue Playhouse, 1620 Sixth Ave., San Diego.

'Romeo and Juliet'

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