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Stage Beat

'Hair' Revived at the Heliotrope Theater; 'Omalingwo' at the Cast; 'Inconceivable' at the Main Stage; 'California' at Attic Theatre

September 23, 1988|DON SHIRLEY

John DiFusco took over the direction of the Heliotrope Theater's revival of "Hair" after it had already opened last May. Apparently not satisfied with the resulting production, he's now trying again--but with a different cast, new choreography and vocal direction and a slightly trimmed script.

Contrary to reports from the first time out, the cast now seems to be a tribe as much as a motley bunch of actors. They project an air of late '60s spontaneity, yet they're tuned in to each other's personalities.

They're also well-rehearsed. They hit their marks with precision and exuberance. Janet Roston's dances make imaginative use of the large platform across the back of the stage, and occasionally expand into the audience.

Most of the voices are strong, though some of the diction is muddy, particularly on the less familiar songs (such as "Dead End") that didn't make the original cast album. By the way, is that tableau at the end of "Dead End" supposed to re-create the famous shot of a student on the ground (and a teen-ager crying over his body) at Kent State? I hope not; the Kent State shootings occurred in 1970, while "Hair" is pure 1968.

Vernon Willet's Berger has the requisite magnetism and arrogance for his position as leader of the pack. Jeff McConnell's Claude looks as if he belongs in "Jesus Christ Superstar" instead of "Hair"; his troubles are properly apparent, but he could use a dash of insouciance on the surface.

Jim Wise is a rather grating Woof, but then Woof is a rather grating guy; and Wise suddenly makes Woof sound angelic when he sings "What a Piece of Work Is Man" with Eileen Lynne Dorn. Angela Bradford is a strong Sheila, while Melissa Kievman's pregnant Jeannie seems especially pathetic from the perspective of 1988.

Robert Zentis' set, a splendid visualization of the song title "Walking in Space," remains intact, and the network of rope swings that crisscrosses it adds considerably to the dynamism of the staging. The song about "The Air" also comes with a groovy prop: a flexible trunk that dangles from the top of a platform and spews out simulated smog.

At 660 N. Heliotrope Ave., Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7:30 p.m., through Oct. 23. Tickets: $16.50-$18; (213) 466-1767.

Omalingwo

Los Angeles doesn't see many Nigerian plays. "Omalingwo," at the Cast, is more Nigerian than most. Playwright Nkeonye Nwankwo, musical director Najite Agindotan and composer Babatunde Olatunji are Nigerians. The story is based on a Nigerian folk tale.

Still, producer/director Romell Foster-Owens is an American. So are most of the actors, as a few of the accents make plain. And there are creeping Americanisms throughout the script, the design and even the music.

The script is a mess. The narrative, about a king who's obsessed with siring a male heir, has been extended and cluttered with repetitive scenes, one long flashback, and a dozen tacked-on morals that aren't supported by the story.

The story's implicit feminist angle becomes awkwardly explicit. Declares one of the king's three wives: "As long as we are economically dependent, we will continue to play subordinate roles."

The design is tacky--and some of it looks derived from southwestern Indian or Egyptian art instead of sub-Saharan art. A flute motif that sounds suspiciously like a variation on the "Roots" theme accompanies the vigorous African drumming.

Choreographer Yao Tamakloe studied in Ghana, and the dancing is much better than the rest of the show. Young Marlon Alfonzo Taylor, in the title role of the long-lost male heir, does manage a few charmingly comic moments.

At 804 N. El Centro Ave., Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., through Oct. 23. Tickets: $12-$14; (213) 462-0265. Inconceivable

Characters who are stand-up comics often lend a play a built-in glibness. Too often, depth is sacrificed for the sake of a few laughs.

Most of Joseph P. Krawczyk's "Inconceivable," at the Main Stage, fits this pattern. The comic (John Calvin) usually uses wisecracks to discuss his unwillingness to breed with his wife (Mary Cadorette), whose biological clock ticks loudly.

The man's jokes aren't very funny. Only when he begins to talk seriously about the abuse he suffered from his own father does the play briefly leap to life. This happens just before intermission.

But then the play resumes its superficial route to a conventionally happy ending, abetted by the all-too-convenient addition of infertility to the discussion.

Calvin is at home in the leading role. Cadorette makes intelligent choices, but she is not ideally cast; there is something irrepressibly chipper about her.

Sal Viscuso and Joy Saylor play the couple next door. The contrasts are too neat--he gave up his own comedy career to become a family man, and she is now pregnant but ambivalent about it. But the interplay works at the TV-movie level on which the play exists.

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