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STAGE REVIEW : 'Scuba' Founders in a Sea of Misguided Humor : * The Irvine Community Theater production about an interracial affair owes more to Archie Bunker than to Spike Lee.


IRVINE — The plot of "Scuba Duba" may be driven by an affair between a white woman and a black man, but don't expect any echoes of Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever."

First produced in 1967 (and rarely staged since), Bruce Jay Friedman's frail comedy clearly is a product of its time. "Scuba Duba" has more in common with the racial wisecracking of "All in the Family" than with the in-your-face sensibilities of Lee's recent, challenging film.

Still, the Irvine Community Theater believes the play is stimulating enough to herald in what the board of directors is describing as its Thought-Provoking Season. The program notes assert that "Scuba Duba" focuses on "racial tension (and) racial prejudice" and "gives (the) audience something to chew on intellectually as well."

Well, sort of. Tucked in between all the jokes about the hapless hero (Allen Corcorran), the spacey girl next door (Annette Bravo), the wacky landlady (Audrey Morgan), the nutty burglar (Paul Meitzler) and the goofy therapist (Rod Squires), there is a passel of gags about race, most in the form of well-known slurs and epithets.

Tucked somewhere in those are the same kind of insights that came when Archie Bunker spouted off about the "jungle bunnies" taking over his working-class neighborhood.

The playhouse should be commended for thinking more adventurously (next up is Edward Albee's great and truly provocative "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?") but nobody is likely to be aroused or enlightened by "Scuba Duba." Not unless they've been napping the past 20 years.

Friedman is most interested, it seems, in getting us to guffaw at Harold, the white, middle-class sort who loses his wife (Brenda Pruitt) to a black scuba diver (Dorsey Watson) while vacationing in France. Harold apparently is a nice guy but he's got a big blind spot: His anger bubbles up in unexpected, bigoted ways whenever he's talking over things with his flower-child neighbor, Carol.

The level of humor isn't up there with Friedman's more popular "Steambath," itself a limited comedy. There are witty asides--Harold refers to his job, painting advertising on billboards, as "folk literature" and Carol amusingly details a few erotic tight spots she's been in--but it's really a pretty pedestrian affair.

Director Lee Clark and his cast try hard to make us laugh, but the two-hour show seems to last a long time. Part of the problem is Corcorran's Harold: There's a lot of whining in the portrayal and, after a while, it gets to you.

'Scuba Duba'

An Irvine Community Theater production of Bruce Jay Friedman's comedy. Directed by Lee Clark. With Allen Corcorran, Annette Bravo, Bill Mix, Audrey Morgan, Dawna Finley, Paul Meitzler, Tom Lavecchia, Rod Squires, Victoria Willits, Brenda Pruitt, Dorsey Watson and Geryl Anderson. Sound and lighting by Todd Kulczyk and Kathleen Fox. Plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Oct. 26 at 1 Sunnyhill, Irvine. Tickets: $5 and $6. (714) 857-5496.

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