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STAGE REVIEW : Fantasy, Reality Don't Mix in 'The Last Hunt'

February 19, 1988|SYLVIE DRAKE | Times Theater Writer

A hunter shoots a mighty stag and suddenly, without his quite understanding why, he is pierced with the desire to live under the house and eat greens. The animal's soul, he thinks, may have entered his heart. . . . Poetic. Bizarre. And a little spooky.

Where will it go from there? Nowhere. Shirley Hillard may have had an idea when she first started writing "The Last Hunt," now playing on the Tiffany Theatre's North Stage, but she hasn't sorted out the muddle of fantasy and reality in her play. Nor has she sorted some elementary inconsistencies in a story that hasn't made up its mind if it's comedy, tragedy, mystery or a combination of the three.

Tom (Frank Papia) shot the deer with his buddy Joe (a tall, engaging Kent Minault). Crashing around his house in a drunken stupor, he suddenly finds himself under the floorboards--and likes it there. His pregnant wife Emily (Ellen Brooks) thinks it's a passing thing at first and, to her increasing grief, conceals the situation from everyone, including her obnoxious mother (Janice Fuller).

Mama owns land on which stands the store Tom runs. In his "absence" she sells it. She's so poorly written as a character who tritely bullies her daughter that she doesn't even do that convincingly.

Joe feels sorry for Ellen and kinda loves her. His comical, clumsy advances--the most palatable part of this play--anger the subterranean Tom. Yet when Ellen makes a startling confession to Joe, Hillard has her make it without the slightest concern that Tom (who must not hear it) could be listening.

Similarly, a harvest of green onions is all over the floor when Tom asks Ellen for something green to eat and she replies there's nothing green in the house.

Director Steve Dobbins is as much at fault as playwright Hillard for these bloopers, but they're symptomatic of a deeper failure of clear thinking. Hillard simply doesn't know where she wants the play to go. She starts with a mythic probability, ends up writing kitchen-sink drama. Finally she stops the play more than she ends it, without resolving anything.

Papia, Brooks and Minault acquit themselves reasonably well under the circumstances, but Fuller is daunted by the formidable and underwritten Mama. Stephan Sowash's mountain cabin set is accurate and the sound (by the humorously named Earwax Productions) eerie. But why do Christopher Collins' lights make it perpetual night outside the front door? It's the wrong kind of mystery.

Performances at 8532 Sunset Blvd. run Wednesdays through Sundays, 8 p.m., until April 1. Tickets: $16.50-$18; (213) 652-6165.

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