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THEATER : Love on the Lam : The Gnu Theatre in North Hollywood brings Robin Swicord's dark, oddball comedy 'Criminal Minds' back to the Valley.

December 11, 1992|JANICE ARKATOV | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Janice Arkatov writes regularly about theater for The Times.

When "Criminal Minds" collide at the Gnu Theatre, watch out.

There's Eddie Ray, a failed small-time crook. Nine days before making parole, with the help of his tough-talking, tag-along girlfriend, Billy Marie, Eddie broke out of prison with the mysterious Renfroe. Now on the lam, the threesome have found themselves, in the middle of winter, on a deserted miniature golf course, eating stale vending-machine food and dreaming of a rosy future.

"Billy wants to live in nice, polite society," explains Jeff Hall, who's directing the production at the Gnu in North Hollywood. "She's hoping to change Eddie, reform him. And at the same time, she's enabling him."

Renfroe, he continues, "has a short attention span. He falls in love with Billy every time he sees her. Eddie underestimates the situation. He's a predator who becomes the prey. He wants to exploit Renfroe. He's not sure what's there, but realizes he's a person with tremendous potential. He figures Renfroe is the key to his success, that he's going to be a criminal superstar. But he opens up a Pandora's box and gets the ultimate surprise."

Robin Swicord's dark, oddball comedy--which opened Thursday night at the Gnu--has lately found itself a popular item on the local theater front. The American New Theatre in Hollywood staged it in 1991, and the Third Stage in Burbank did it earlier this year.

At the Gnu, Wayne Terry plays Eddie, with Gnu alumni Suzanne Wouk as Billy Marie and Michael Dempsey as Renfroe.

Hall, 40, who co-directed the theater's last production--a revival of Michael Gazzo's period drama, "A Hatful of Rain"--has no acting background. He comes to the Gnu via a long friendship with artistic director Jeff Seymour, who has designed the set and is acting as the show's producer.

After majoring in fine arts at the University of Minnesota, Hall became a multiple Emmy winner who works by day as an animation director and producer. His credits include the "Garfield" specials, "The New Jetsons" and "lots of stuff," he says, for Hanna-Barbera Productions.

"Jeff and I shared the same attitudes about theater, so we decided to do a production together," he notes. "Still, it was surprising how similar our views were. 'Hatful' was a great experience."

The pair have plans to collaborate again, when Hall directs Ron Ribman's "Cold Storage" at the theater in January.

"It's hard to find things that appeal to me," says Seymour, who notes that he chooses the theater's programs with an eye toward offering a "balanced diet" for his audiences. "I like that this is offbeat. And it's funny and fast-paced."

In spite of the unsavory natures of the characters, Seymour says, "when I'm laughing at characters, I tend to enjoy them and like them. These people are just trying to make money, move forward in their lives."

He laughs. "I understand that completely. I run an Equity Waiver theater."

Where and When What: "Criminal Minds." Location: Gnu Theatre, 10426 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Hours: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Closes Jan. 10. Price: $15 to $20. Call: (818) 508-5344.

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