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Texan's Return to 'Big O' Is Quite a Trip

February 08, 1991|T.H. McCULLOH

The crack of a whip and an earsplitting yahoo shatter the darkness. "Hi," says Mel Green when the lights come up. "I'm a recovering Texan." He comes from the Big O--that's interchangeably Oil or Odessa, his forlorn hometown in West Texas. He's very glad to be here. Home, he says, is big and desolate, and "it brings up the question: Why do people live there?"

In "Back to the Big 'O,' " Green's always insightful and often hilarious one-man show at Theatre/ Theater in Hollywood, he recreates the bigness and the desolation of growing up as an adopted child in what he calls "Bubbaland." Bubba got to him early in the persons of Big Spooley and Little Spooley, typical flannel-mouthed rednecks who can't decide whether his olive skin, from his Irish-Hawaiian heritage, makes him a "nigra" or a "Meskin."

Green lived with his adoptive parents in a "ranch-style" house with a "mock bay window." His father was a urologist with no little flannel in his own mouth, and his mother dressed up in a tangerine pantsuit. They're worthy of a full-length play, these two, along with the Spooleys and Mel's poverty-stricken best friend James, and the doc's buffalo calf-sized dog, who has a barking obsession which the good doctor controls with drugs.

Green captures the insular drabness of that world, and its humor, and does it in a striking series of characterizations that are startling in their reality and grudging affection--his 15-year-old nephew Russy, at 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, does little but eat, and the description is enough.

As Green describes his trip home to purge the memories of his past, he wrings out of the experience the bitterness and sadness of the world he grew up in and those who tormented him in the process.

The center panel between his Texas childhood and his return to the Big O spotlights a beatnik poet who accompanies himself on bongo drums and sounds a lot like an updated Lord Buckley. Very funny, but not on a level with the folks he left back home.

"Back to the Big 'O, ' " Theatre/Theater, 1715 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Thursdays-Fridays, 8 p.m. Ends March 1. $12.50; (213) 466-1767. Running time: 1 hour .

'Mary Shelley' Meets Bronte

Crashes of thunder and flashes of lightning set the mood for Vivian Cox's English version of Cuban-French writer Eduardo Manet's "The Day Mary Shelley Met Charlotte Bronte," at the Burbage Theatre in West Los Angeles.

In this case, the Gothic protagonists are the authors of "Frankenstein" and "Jane Eyre," and their immediate concern is the dogged persistence with which their most famous characters have attached themselves to their creators.

The monster passes his time as Shelley's butler--to his chagrin, she calls him Percival, after Lord Byron's horse--and Jane Eyre followed Bronte through the storm to her appointed rendezvous.

Manet's script is intelligent, thoughtful and intriguing, including the gimmick that the two fictional creations are dead set on the writers producing sequels. The playwright deals with metaphysics and personal identity and lards the lot with a good bit of humor.

Good performances, by Joanne Jacobson as Shelley, Leigh Kelton-Smith as Bronte, and Michael McCreight and Randall Edwards as their characters, are lucidly and theatrically directed by Louis Fantasia with only one glitch: he doesn't maintain a seamless blend of the serious and the funny. Don Llewellyn's setting and Leupold's lighting are Gothic to a shiver.

"The Day Mary Shelley Met Charlotte Bronte," Burbage Theatre, 2330 Sawtelle Blvd., West Los Angeles; Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Feb . 23. $15; (213) 478-0897. Running time: 80 minutes .

Bergman's 'Nora' Tough to Re-Create

Ingmar Bergman's truncated adaptation of Ibsen's "A Doll House," called "Nora" and playing at CalRep in Long Beach, is sort of like looking at the original play through the wrong end of a telescope. The shapes are there but little detail and shading.

With Bergman's directorial virtuosity and five powerful actors, it probably served his purposes beautifully. It is, however, an extremely difficult piece full of potholes for the unwary traveler. Director Brian Nelson does an admirable job of holding its pieces together, and is aided by excellent performances from Patricia Boyette as Nora, John Frederick Jones as Helmer and Sue Berkompas as Christine Linde. Neither Russell St. Clair as Krogstad, nor Kent Miller as Rank, are able to make their speeches much more than stilted and superficial.

Nelson's direction also allows a young audience to laugh at the 19th Century attitudes and platitudes in this very serious play. He could have avoided the giggles by underlining the action with stronger tension. "Nora," CalRep, Cal State Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Blvd.; tonight and Saturday, also Feb. 28, March 1-2, 13-16, April 4-6, 8 p.m.; mats. March 1 and April 5, 3 p.m. Ends April 6. $12-$14; (213) 985-5526. Running time: 90 minutes.

Shanley's 'Pillow' in Studio City

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