Quick: Name Pirandello's first play. The printed answer is in a good library, but the living answer is in Series A of Theatre 40's One-Act Festival.
It's "The Vise," which shows Pirandello more under the sway of Strindberg than the illusionism of his later work. Bruce Gray quietly directs Suzanne Goddard (replacing Elizabeth DuVall), Michael Gough and Webster Williams, whose people caught in a love triangle fester and emotionally decompose before our eyes.
"Goods," by Isidore Elias, frankly dwarfs the evening's third work, Rich Orloff's silly bit of metaphysical doggerel called "The Whole Shebang," which posits that God is a science graduate student in another universe. Where Orloff tries to take on literally everything, Elias addresses the specific: How many little guys can a garment company owner (Milt Kogan) swallow in a day.
Elias revels in showing business as predatory, male interplay, and Kogan's sparring with Jerry Beal's salesman is a great, savagely comic dialogue. Ricardo Gutierrez directs the war with glee.
"One-Act Festival, Series A" Theatre 40, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills High School, Sundays-Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Ends Wednesday. $10; (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.
'Cherry Terry' in Hollywood Hell
Two things are clear about John Kaye and his black, surreal play, "Cherry Terry/The Rockin' Robin," at Theatre 6470: Kaye knows his John Guare and Nathaniel West, and his disgust for Hollywood is readily apparent.
Strangely, the Hollywood crowd for "Cherry Terry" last week seemed to enjoy it--even though Susan Osborne's production has the disembodied quality of a biology lab experiment.
Terry (Tom Towles), a '50s-era radio deejay trying to re-enter the business just as Apollo 11 is landing on the moon in 1969, actually is entering hell--otherwise known as the Star Lodge, a motel for losers. In case we don't get it, Kaye has Terry point to a crack in a sidewalk (Ted Crittenden did the crowded, multicolored set) out of which glows hell's red light, and eventually, everyone at the Star Lodge--and Hollywood, for that matter--is consumed in a blood bath just as the Manson Family hits town.
Only Pamela Gordon, as the Lodge's co-owner, has a handle on Kaye's fantastically over-written soliloquies: She undercuts the pretensions with a mocking tone that escapes the rest of the cast. Gordon's is the best way to deal with a play without a compass: What had been a memory drama is doused with ludicrous dollops of grand guignol and science fiction.
"Cherry Terry/The Rockin' Robin," Theatre 6470, 6470 Santa Monica Blvd., Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends March 3. $12.50; (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.
Alcohol Brings Out the 'Demons'
Alcohol is the evil in each half of "Demons" at the Gene Dynarski Theatre--Ethan Phillips' "Penguin Blues" and David Mamet's "Reunion" (written after "American Buffalo" in 1976). Both suffer from the tone of cautionary tales sponsored by Alcoholics Anonymous.
This is especially the case with "Penguin," in which a nun (Lois Berning) and a hip, gruff guy (Paul Goodman) spill each other's guts to one another in a drunks' ward. Phillips never develops the meeting beyond an obvious clash of types, allowing director Dynarski no room to push this piece beyond an actors' workshop scene.
Dynarski, though, returns in "Reunion," and puts on an actor's clinic. Again, the situation--an alcoholic World War II veteran (Dynarski) re-acquaints himself with a daughter (Susan Priver) he hasn't seen in years--is standard, two-character stuff under Richard Scaffidi's direction, and utterly lacking the raw, poetic grace of Mamet's best work. While "Reunion" reminds us that creating interesting women seems beyond Mamet (Priver is reduced to stares and pleadings), it shows his grasp of vulnerable men. Dynarski's work is in the details--a nervous laugh, the wave of a hand--and in those details lies tragedy.
"Demons," Gene Dynarski Theatre, 5600 Sunset Blvd., Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Feb. 16. $8; (213) 465-5600. Running time: 1 hr. 35 mins.
Pulp Playhouse's Rotating Genres
Perhaps aware of improv comedy's inherent limits as a form that recycles previously recycled stereotypes of junk culture, the San Francisco-based Pulp Playhouse nightly rotates genres (horror, crime, romance and adventure) and works with a narrative gimmick. Each skit is narrated by a set character who, once in possession of a title suggested by the audience, guides the improv action by (hopefully) clever storytelling.