"Hidden in the Laughter," at Company of Angels, never transcends its genre, the social problem play. But it's a reputable example of that genre, and it holds its audience.
Writer Donald Mark Spencer focuses on Julie (Alison Arngrim), a 26-year-old comedian whose two-year separation from her family has allowed her to come to terms with her father's molestation of her when she was a girl. But when she finally returns home to Encino, to confront dear old dad (F. William Parker) and enlighten the rest of the family, she learns that she wasn't the only victim.
In fact, it's her older sister Maggie (Linda L. Rand) who undergoes the most trauma during this particular weekend. Her onstage experiences are so much more cathartic than Julie's that we wonder whether Spencer chose the wrong protagonist.
Spencer highlights Julie by beginning and ending the play with scenes in which she performs in a comedy club, and by including several conversations with her gay male confidant (Artur Cybulski). These devices add very little, and they seem trivial next to what's going on inside Maggie--or, for that matter, inside their mother (Jean Van De Griek) and father.
Still, Spencer's dialogue usually rings true, even at its jokiest (perhaps this is why he made Julie a comedian), and the performances in Richard Haimowitz's staging are well-observed, with particularly notable work by Rand and Richard Camphuis as Maggie's rock-of-Gibraltar husband.
Kenny Klimak's set and Chris O'Meara's costumes look authentic, with one minor exception: a tiny dining room table that's shunted up against a wall. This well-fed family would place the table in a much more prominent position.
Performances are at Vine Street and Waring Avenue, Tuesday through next Thursday, at 8 p.m. Tickets: $10; (213) 466-1767. 'Some Men Need Help'
John Ford Noonan's "Some Men Need Help," at the Flight, is a tantalizing set-up with a droopy ending. Each morning, a suburban alcoholic is paid an unwanted visit by a neighbor, who cajoles and then coerces the drunk into seeking help. Because the neighbor appears to be a member of the Mafia, you might say that he makes the alcoholic an offer that he can't refuse.
Some of the neighbor's tactics are awfully heavy-handed (though we're not sure how seriously to take his account of what goes on offstage). We keep expecting to hear what the neighbor wants in return, yet finally it seems he wants nothing more than some male bonding. The momentum of the play sags as the man-to-man talk thickens during the second act.
It's unclear whether Noonan wants to show us the human side of the Mafia, the inhumane side of reform, or whether he knows what he wants to show us. The solicitude of Mr. Mafia is implausible enough, but Noonan compounds the implausibility by making the alcoholic a bigoted, unpleasant fellow with no redeeming charm.
Mike Michaud, as the neighbor, appears to know everything that's going on inside his character, even if we can't quite grasp it. But Richard Starzak fails to penetrate beneath the scuzzy surface of the alcoholic. David Michael Weiss' staging includes one especially convincing fight, before bogging down in the second act.
Performances are at 6472 Santa Monica Blvd., Fridays through Sundays at 8 p.m., through Feb. 14. Tickets: $10; (213) 466-1767. 'Out of the Frying Pan'
It isn't every day that a black former juvenile TV star, now a producer as well as an actor, revives a 1941 lily-white Broadway farce as a vehicle for himself. That's what Todd Bridges (who played the older brother on "Diff'rent Strokes") has done with Francis Swann's "Out of the Frying Pan" at the Argyle Theater.
The result has some slight curiosity value, but not much of anything else. In terms of design, as well as the casting of blacks in most of the roles, director Betty Bridges ignored the play's period. Yet the plot and the dialogue constantly remind us of it. This is a labored story of young New York actors who are petrified at what people might think of their co-ed living arrangement. Nowadays, no one would think twice about it.
As no one seems to care about the period, the production must be nothing but an acting showcase. But it isn't a very flattering one. Two casts alternate; the one I saw (including Bridges) was shrill and overbearing, with the sole exception of Frances Marshall Laborteaux as a fussy landlady.
Performances are at 6240 Hollywood Blvd., Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m., through Feb. 14. Tickets: $10; (818-780-0588). 'Just Roommates'
"Just Roommates" is just terrible. This would-be romantic comedy, a rental at the Matrix, asks us to care about the relationship between a blank (played by John Harwood) and an obnoxiously rude scatterbrain (Katherine Kelly Lang), who's aptly described as "Miss Prissy Pants" by her rival (Patricia Harty).
The production and its write-by-numbers characterizations are laughable instead of funny. For example, Miss Prissy Pants makes a political statement by scribbling "No Nukes" on two pieces of paper and pasting them on a wall. Then there is a bizarre moment when a former Wisconsin farm boy suddenly starts spouting Yiddish (later we learn he was born in Brooklyn).
The sound track is as sappy as they come. Allan Esses directed the play and wrote it with Harwood.
Performances are at 7657 Melrose Ave., Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 p.m., through Feb. 21. Tickets: $15-$17.50; (213) 852-1445.