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THEATER REVIEW 'CLAPTRAP' : Fitting Title : S.A.V.E. Theater of Simi Valley's sendup of 'Deathtrap' misses its mark and lasts too long.

May 16, 1991|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A number of people have spent great time and energy in order to mount the current S.A.V.E. Theater of Simi Valley production of Ken Friedman's "Claptrap."

Looking at the play, one might wonder why they bothered.

Would it be too easy a shot to note that "Claptrap" lives up to its title? Perhaps, but it would also be accurate. Described by the producers as a "farce," this may be the flabbiest example of the form around, lasting well over two hours in this production and seeming longer than "Hamlet" and "A Long Day's Journey into Night" combined. A noticeable segment of the audience departed during intermission at the show reviewed.

The central characters are Sam Kulick, a purported writer who can't get beyond the first line of his first novel, and Harvey Wheatcraft, a self-proclaimed actor who has been auditioning for more than five years without landing a part. As an example of his own sloppiness as a writer, Friedman never does tell us what these two do for a living while pursuing their respective muses.

The two meet when Sam--who is trying to pass himself off as a minister--is conducting a memorial service for the stepfather of his girlfriend, Sara. Don't ask why, the answer makes little sense. Harvey wanders in, thinking that Sam is the director at an audition.

Buttering him up, Harvey gushes, "You did 'Hedda Gabler,' didn't you?" To which Sam--the pseudo minister--replies, "I wanted to, but at the last minute, her family made other arrangements."

Though there are some chuckle-provoking physical bits, that's the funniest exchange of dialogue in the play.

A burlesque of the Broadway success "Deathtrap" in the show leads to Friedman's title, but that's all mixed up with a lot of screaming, shouting, idiot mistakes, and people spending much time with one another who never would do so in real life.

Harvey Wheatcraft, the actor character, may be one of the most oppressive personalities you'll ever see, yet he forms a strong and lasting relationship with the easygoing Sam and Sara.

As disagreeable as Harvey may be, he's something of an acting triumph for Grant Tomerlin, previously seen as the legal aid attorney in the S.A.V.E. group's "Nuts." Here, he wears a fuzzy moustache, narrow-rimmed glasses and a tie-dyed shirt--one of cartoonist R. Crumb's hippie fantasies come to life--and dashes about maniacally, like all three major Marx brothers combined.

Sid Haig and Glenda Hochheiser are somewhat easier to take as the more reserved Sam and Sara, and Teresa Rowlee is effective (if a bit stiff at times) as a woman who, like everybody else in the play, pays entirely too much attention to Harvey. Arlene Weisenberg portrays Sara's stereotypical mother.

Perhaps saddled by an impossible challenge, director Candy Holt shows little sense of the precise timing that's required for farce, and decides to stage her first scene in near darkness on the auditorium's floor, while spotlights glare at center stage, where virtually nothing is happening.

Still waiting for a permanent showcase, the S.A.V.E. Theater continues to move about Simi Valley; this show's being held in the auditorium of Simi Elementary School. "Claptrap" isn't really suitable for youngsters, though several were present.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"Claptrap" continues Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:30 through June 8 at the school's Stewart Theater, 2956 School St. (at Deodora Street, south of Los Angeles Avenue) in Simi Valley. Tickets are $6 for adults; $5 for seniors and students. For tickets and information call (805) 527-7071.

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