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THEATER BEAT : 'Complete' Return of the Reduced Shakespeareans

April 16, 1993|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"We're history!" proclaims the Reduced Shakespeare Company at the end of the trio's whiplashing "The Complete History of America (abridged)," and indeed they are, unless you're able to catch these touring fools either tonight at UC San Diego's Mandeville Auditorium or Saturday at Fullerton's Pacific Auditorium. For this Southern California-born group, this homecoming is awfully, well, reduced.

During the 1987 Fringe Festival, they were just getting their act together, taking us on a lampooning whirlwind survey through Shakespeare's complete works. It bubbled over with collegiate sloppiness, like bright guys pulling all-nighters. Judging by the reviews enclosed in their current press packet, it vastly improved by the time the troupe hit London's West End last year.

"Complete History of America" marks the group's first break from the Bard, and Tuesday's performance at Pepperdine University's Smothers Theatre showed that all those years with Hamlet and the gang have helped. Authors-performers Reed Martin, Adam Long and Austin Tichenor have PC revisionist history in their hearts, but they're too subversive to toe any party line as they gallop through an American comedy of errors.

You want voyages of discovery? Try Amerigo Vespucci, unlike Gilligan, "on more than a three-hour tour." You want Western expansion? Try Lewis and Clark, the vaudeville act. You want the history of the Cold War? Try Spade Diamond, private eye, meeting everyone from Lucy Ricardo to Ronald Reagan (as a puppet manipulated by wife Nancy). These guys can still be sloppy--Long struggled Tuesday with props and coats--but they're gifted enough to make the flubs work for them.

* T onight, 8 p.m. Mandeville Auditorium, UC San Diego; (619) 534-4090, $13-$15. Saturday, 8 p.m. Pacific Auditorium, 2500 E. Nutwood, Fullerton; (714) 773-3371. $12.50-$17.50. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

'Paparazzi!' Takes Aim at Photogs

Gib Johnson's "Paparazzi!" at Theatre/Theater has the same kind of frenetic pressure of Rafael Lima's "El Salvador"--another, better play about journalists battling combat conditions, deadlines and editors. Unlike Lima's depiction of reporters under fire in a San Salvador hotel room, though, Johnson shows the ruthless people of Trans World Photography, a tabloid photo agency, and how far they'll go for a "shoot."

The term is apt, since "the enemy" is the galaxy of TV and movie stars around whom the agency's shutterbugs are always buzzing. The most aggressive shooter is Ozzie, played by Drew Pillsbury with the same casual intensity he showed in "El Salvador." The most ambitious is Lisa Close Nelson's subtly drawn Magda, whose itch to shoot leads to trouble. Ken Gerson's quiet, jittery Bruno watches the office go nuts, but the veteran Scudder (Richard R. Isaacs impressively replaced Rob Fitzgerald Sunday) wants out of the whole thing. Gene Armor's oily boss Clive tries to run his troops, but it's a losing proposition.

It's also too clear in Johnson's script that the fates these paparazzi tempt will eventually destroy them, but Korey Mall propulsively directs so we get caught up in the charged moments.

* Theatre/Theater, 1713 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends May 9. $12; (213) 469-9689. Running time: 1 hours, 40 minutes.

'Neva's Tale' Evokes Wilson

The aura of August Wilson, who knows something about auras, ghosts and the residue of legacies, is all over Clif Harper's family drama, "Neva's Tale," opening the Artists' Collective's spring season at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. It has some of Wilson's literary ambitions and predilection for length, too, but without the craft to make his story resound as a good ghost story should.

At first, it seems that elderly Neva (even with her quaking voice, Veralyn Jones is too young by decades) is just the Walker family crackpot with her stuff about "the spell" that turned generations of Walker men into ne'er-do-wells. Amentha Dymally's amusingly put-upon Sara certainly sees Neva this way, until bad things do start happening to the living Walker men, like patriarch Barth (Kevin E. Jones, far short of a tragic figure) and aimless Little Nat (an impassioned, itchy Michael Edwards). It is drunken Pluck (Vincent Isaac, who brilliantly conveys a wasted life) who seems to have the worst spell of all, though, and he isn't a Walker man.

Harper's telling is so drawn out, so afraid of leaving out any detail, that Neva's repeated call of "It's the spell!" begins to sound like an unintended I-told-you-so gag. Part of the problem is tone, which isn't as ominous as it must be under Ted Lange's direction. It undermines Harper's symbolic thrust about the burdens of America's black men.

* Los Angeles Theatre Center Theatre 5, 514 S. Spring St. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends April 25. $8-$12; (213) 660-8587. Running time: 3 hours, 10 minutes.

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