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'Arsenals' at Theatre 40; 'True Fiction' at Skylight; 'Love Duet' at Actors Alley; 'It's Raining on Hope Street' at the Whitefire

March 25, 1988|DON SHIRLEY

As a kid, Frances Berman was a communist. Now (or at least in 1982, when this play is set), she's bucking for a job in the Reagan State Department. What sent her through such a metamorphosis?

Jeremy Lawrence offers several answers in his "Arsenals," at Theatre 40; the truth about Frances probably draws something from each of them. A skillful analyst of ideas and characters, Lawrence treats everything and everyone with such consummate balance that it's hard to discern his own point of view. "Arsenals" is no passionate personal statement.

It also lacks the topical edge it must have had when it was written in 1982 or when it was produced in Buffalo in 1985. Still, anyone who's stimulated by intelligent talk will appreciate "Arsenals."

Frances believes she lost her faith in humanity (suggestion for alternate title: "Arsenals and Old Faith") because she simply grew older and wiser. She's perfectly willing to explain the reasoning behind her beliefs, and Lawrence allows her to have her say.

However, he also lets her younger, left-leaning siblings, Jo and especially Larry, suggest that Frances' march to the right was a rebellion against their dear old radical daddy, now deceased. Frances denies this. She also denies that Daddy was quite so dear.

Despite their disagreements, Jo and Larry are dependent on Frances; they've both left previous lives in order to begin again in New York, and both need a place to stay. Family resentments stack up and finally explode. The title refers to the weapons wielded against loved ones as well as those aimed at cross-global enemies.

Director John Flynn has a marvelously snappy Frances in Mary Gregory; imperious, but with faint glimmers of vulnerability at just the right moments. Dee Croxton's Jo doesn't quite appear to belong in this family; she's also stuck with most of the script's lamer lines.

Neil Elliot capably demonstrates that Larry has been the baby brother for too long. Clay Winters and Jon Amirkhan are very good as Frances' help--for personal and professional support, respectively.

Performances are at 242 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills, Thursdays through Sundays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., through April 17. Tickets: $8-$10; (213) 465-0070.

'True Fiction'

Three one-acts about imagined moments in the lives of famous people make up "True Fiction," at the Skylight. All three were developed in Jerome Lawrence's graduate playwriting course at USC.

The first two plays--really no more than single scenes--examine crumbling marriages. In Martin Isenberg's " 'Til Deaf Us Do Part," John (Steve Dunaway) and Cynthia (Jacqueline Woolsey) Lennon realize that his drift into drugs is leaving her behind. The title character of Jill Beerman's "Mrs. Hemingway" is Ernest's third wife, the fiercely independent journalist Martha Gellhorn (Sandra Phillips), who conducts one last spat with the misogynistic Hemingway (Calvin Bartlett) in war-torn Europe.

Both of these are well-done audition pieces for budding docudramatists. Lisa Foster's "Truer Than Non-Fiction" is more of a finished play. In a series of short scenes that jump over time, young Eudora Welty (Robin Frates) gradually realizes that her home town of Jackson, Miss. might be a better literary inspiration than her previous favorite--Paris, France.

Her change of mind is spurred by the words spoken and the example set by her father (Edward Dloughy). This wistful little play introduces a writer who wants, like Welty, to use imagination in order to get at the truth.

Gary Guidinger's cast is excellent. " 'Til Deaf" begins slowly, but otherwise the pacing of the plays works well.

Performances are at 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m., through April 24 (except April 3-4). Tickets: $7; (213) 466-1767.

'Love Duet'

"Love Duet," at Actors Alley, is billed as two one-acts, both of which are set in motel rooms. But the second one, Bart Baker's "Love Acts," has outgrown one-act status. Its five scenes go on for more than an hour and need trimming and focusing.

Baker and his cast, directed by Paul Backer, breathe life into the characters: a drifter (Scott Sherman), a promiscuous waitress (Brenda Isaacs) and a motel maid (Gloria Charles). The dialogue is flavorful, but the narrative edges into contrivance too often.

Ernest Kearney's "Duet in Decline," which opens the evening, plunges into contrivance. A wife discovers that her missing husband has been holed up for six months, reading Roman history. After much pretentious dialogue and silly business, a reconciliation is reached, though I couldn't begin to explain why.

Performances are at 4334 Van Nuys Blvd., Mondays through Wednesdays at 8 p.m., through April 27. Free admission, donations requested; (818) 986-2278.

'Hope Street'

Nancy D'Aleo's "It's Raining on Hope Street," at the Whitefire, tries to be a chicken-fried Texas comedy and a family psychodrama as well as a serious reflection on the plight of nurses who served in Vietnam. The intentions clash.

Set in 1968, the plot focuses on the homecoming of Jessie (Shari Ballard) to the mother (Lou Hancock) and sister (Candy Clark) who don't understand her recent ordeal. D'Aleo spends so much time on the mother and sister, and on the sister's naive ex-brother-in-law (must he stutter?), that she's guilty of the same thing they are: ignoring the real problem.

Dallas Vogeler directed on Rolf Darbo's carefully cluttered set.

Performances are at 13500 Ventura Blvd., Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., through April 22. Tickets: $12.50; (213) 3122-0677.

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