A musical revue can cut two ways. Each piece must be brief, or at least, to the point. A blessing, especially if a piece isn't working. Not a blessing, especially if we want more than the piece gives us.
"Talk Story (Chapter 2)," a visiting production by the performance group, Great Leap, at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, cuts very much both ways. We could do with less of the failed sensuality of "Pilipino Tango," or the dead-end dialogue in "Two Nisei Women" or the vague and strained seriousness of "The Man Nobody Sees" and the finale, "Path to Soul."
We could do with more of the characters suggested in "English Lesson" (Young-Ae Park's young immigrant woman struggling with Kenny Eiland's insensitive boyfriend) or "Color of Love" (Nobuko Miyamoto's daughter trying to explain her interracial marriage to father Jose De Vega). Maybe chapter three of "Talk Story" should spend more time on fewer stories.
The tone ranges as far as the multicultural L.A. map the revue observes. This can also be troublesome: Miyamoto's music, lyrics and book can be precise, as in "Schizophrenic" (Deborah Nishimura's hip woman torn between rap and tai chi), or can overreach and become corny, as in "Family Business" and "Feels So Good." The company, under Daniel Kwan's direction and Park's choreography, dances better than it acts. Unfortunately, the mostly poor singing voices have to be miked to be heard over the well-produced, recorded music.
\o7 At 514 S. Spring St., on Fridays, 8 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays, 2 and 8 p.m., through July 16. Tickets: $17-$20; (213) 627-5599.
\f7 'New York Acts'
Assignment for playwrights throughout the ages: Create a problem for your characters, then try to solve it. Whether it's Marvin L. Seiger's '50s-era "Blue Concerto" or Michael Patrick King's contemporary "Me and We"--a pairing of New York-based one-acts at Theatre 6470--the assignment hasn't changed.
Neither has the problem, despite the time lag between the two plays. The dilemma in both is an impossible, unfulfillable quest for love. In "Concerto," Helen (Janet Borrus) loves Harry (Eric Kohner), her young, partially paralyzed husband who's partially in control of the rage he feels over his fate. She's been having an affair with a virile, sensitive jazz trumpeter--the Brando character (Tim deZarn)--who lives upstairs and delivers chicken soup, but the guilt is getting the better of her. Each has an object of love just out of reach.
That is the theme Seiger puts across best. But the play's age (37) shows in the strained poetic naturalism and melodrama that director Jill Holden's cast nevertheless keep as tight a lid on as possible. This is the kind of play Paddy Chayefsky cut his teeth on.
Expressions of the New Age movement rarely succeed on stage, perhaps because it is too easy a butt of satire. Writer-director King, with "Me and We," approaches the New Age--in this case, channeling--on its own terms. The results weave a surprisingly complex web.
Charlie (Alexis Genya, who extracts comedy from the smallest bit of behavior) is a living catalogue of pent-up urban neuroses. She appears to be a basket case next to Rena, the calm--too calm--channeler (Alexandra Summer, in a very fine, matter-of-fact performance). From here, King reveals shades of schizophrenia, moral outrage and love as only a playwright who has thought about his subject can. New Agers will not be amused by his thoughts.
\o7 At Theatre 6470, 6470 Santa Monica Blvd., on Wednesdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., until June 24. Tickets: $10; (213) 466-1767.
Like Jack Kerouac's writing, James Terry's production of the Beatster's "Tristessa" sinks into valleys of sloth-like self-indulgence and rises to moments of unexpected inspiration. Seeing it outdoors in the Al's Bar parking lot, the evening chill increasing by the minute, makes for a distinctly urban theater experience. This doesn't conceal the fact that there's barely a play here.
"Jack" (like Henry Miller's, Kerouac's central character was almost always himself, romanticized) has been around a lot of demanding types, but the ones he encounters in his trip to Mexico are beyond hope. There's Tristessa (beautiful but dull Dagmar Stanec), a woman he falls for. There's her morphine-addicted compadres, El Indio and Cruz (Roberto Santana and Marrianne Bergonzi, both grungy to the hilt). And there's Bull, a drug-smashed expatriate (the very droll Brian Brophy) that only Malcolm Lowry could love.
Since they're beyond hope from the start, there are very few directions for them, except further down. The only concern is whether Jack's going down with them, but Peter Freiberger's pallid take on the artist makes this a slender thread to hold on to.
What is left is the narration--there's little dialogue--read in a wonderfully transfixed and silken style by Steve Andrews, standing in a suit before a circa-'50s off-stage mike. Kerouac's syncopated curlicues of language fly better on the air than they do on stage.