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'Don't Go Back to Rockville' at Pacific / 'Anacardium' at Court / 'Vikings' at Gem

January 22, 1988|RAY LOYND

Playwright Jamie Baker, who picked up the story for his play, "Don't Go Back to Rockville," from his family, sets it in 1944 in the Green Mouse Tavern a few blocks from Churchill Downs in Louisville. Dramatic literature is rife with characters in bars, but the horse racing background here makes a wonderful difference.

"Don't Go Back to Rockville" at the Pacific Theater Ensemble in Venice is, in spirit and several of the characters, a memory of my own--down to the wire. I spent an inordinate amount of my childhood enthralled by track people who frequented my uncle's watering hole (the long-gone Pioneer Cafe in Arcadia), a few furlongs from the Santa Anita race track.

Sometimes star jockeys would show up. The language was strange and exhilarating. This was life-- gamblers, touts, losers, winners, garish waitresses, surly jockeys. I couldn't wait to run to Uncle Herbert's racing pub after school.

The desperate, win-at-all-costs sleazy jockey milieu is strongly recreated in Baker's play (which he also directs with vivid strokes). This is the way it was. And the production is also a romance that theatergoers will relish.

The gloss is off in the Green Mouse. This is horse racing's back room. The featured late dramatic arrival is a bitter, alcoholic, suspended jockey (Andrew Philpot) who catapults events to a near-violent conclusion. His sweet but desolate wife (Hallie Todd) is upstairs with a doting rival jockey (J. Wesley Mann), also a victim of big track duplicity.

Another patron, a smug but naive young racing commissioner (John DeMita), nervously courts a mousy barmaid (Julia Fletcher). And the blowzy, no-nonsense tavern manager (Bonnie Bowers) finds her days numbered with a certified loser of a sweet, weak, guitar-playing ex-con who would steal from his sister and does.

On a gritty set credited to the cast and company, director Baker has handicapped a winner with a group that works with ensemble polish. (All but one of the performers were featured in the recent "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Westwood Playhouse.) Their alter egos from Santa Anita (also circa '44) should feel honored.

Performances at 705 1/2 Venice Blvd., Venice, conclude tonight and tomorrow, 8 p.m. Tickets: $10. (213) 306-3943.

'Anacardium'

A dark, young man in a North Hollywood apartment advertises for a female roommate. He knows from past experience he can make out that way. But a charming, sandy-haired, hail-fellow-well-met talks his way into becoming the new roommate instead. Secretly, the new tenant harbors the most evil of intents: He intends to kill this young man with the macho complex.

The plot of the chilly, two-character "Anacardium" at the Court Theater is a psychological thriller adhering to the classic unities of time, place and action, in the best tradition. The play, written by Dalton Younger and directed by Robert Bailey (who staged the acclaimed "Borderline" at the Skylight two years ago), deals with a subject close to our punitive hearts--retribution.

The tandem acting is superb, with Ron Kuhlman essaying the dissembling revenger and Duke Moosekian the unwitting but surprisingly scrappy target. Kuhlman and Moosekian sidestep any trace of melodrama, scaling away their facades with a momentum woven as tight as a spiral.

Scenic and lighting design by Deborah Raymond and Dorian Vernacchio are shockingly sunny. The geometric apartment's spare furnishings and light blue walls lift the atmosphere to a surreal realm, appropriate for a nightmare.

Performances are at 722 N. La Cienega Blvd., Thursdays through Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 7 and 10 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m., until Feb. 14. Tickets: $15. (213) 466-1767.

'Vikings'

"Danes Are More Fun," it says on the kitchen refrigerator.

Well, in the Grove Theater Company's "Vikings" at the Gem Theater, the eldest of three Viking descendants delivers the rub from his dying Viking heart: Danes are adventurers but slow to feel passion and capable of their deepest love when they mourn.

The point is that these sentiments are carefully dramatized in the domestic, realistic side of this play about an American family of carpenters of Danish descent. A lightly used format known as presentational theater occasionally telescopes each of the three male characters in a future time frame from which they look back and murmur their truths and memories. It is an effective device, smoothly staged by Jules Aaron.

The family home (under Christa Bartels' artful design), even looks like it was built by Danish carpenters. A nice touch. The play by Stephen Metcalfe is sort of Hamlet on the half shell. It's about heritage, a warm tonal poem to three-generational ties.

Those generations are composed of a loving, oak-solid grandfather (Bert Conway), his widowed and troubled son (Daniel Bryan Cartmell) and the family's real Viking lifeblood, a sun-drenched grandson who loves to mock his grandfather by citing the Vikings' legacy of "rape and pillage." A nurse and romantic interest to the middle-aged American Dane is blandly played by Sydell Weiner (and blandly written by Metcalfe).

Performances run at 12852 Main St., Garden Grove, Wednesdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sunday and Jan. 31, 7:30 p.m. Feb.7, 3 p.m.; Ends Feb. 13. Tickets: $12-$15. (714) 636-7213.

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