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THEATER REVIEW : Seven Times One : Moderately interesting 'Square Feet' offers ample rewards, although its balance is shaky and its focus uneven. Six of the playlets are by Joe Pintauro, the other by Peter Maloney.

April 16, 1993|RAY LOYND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Ray Loynd writes regularly about theater for The Times.

The one-act play, unlike the short story, has never gone out of style in American culture. In fact, lean times have encouraged the proliferation of one-acts, both as a handy showcase for playwrights and actors, and for the sheer economy associated with spare sets and casts.

"Square Feet," the debut of L. A. Theatre Project in association with the Company of CharActors in Studio City, is a moderately interesting patch of seven one-acts dealing with human relationships--people clashing and connecting within "square feet" of one another.

On the downside, the show's balance is shaky and its focus is uneven. One play, in a genuine turnoff, has a character chewing and picking food from his mouth. But there are ample rewards too.

Six of the seven playlets are by Joe Pintauro (better known for his rigorous AIDS-therapy drama, "The Raft of the Medusa," now at the Zephyr Theatre in West Hollywood). The other one-act, "Lost and Found" by Peter Maloney, frames the whole adventure with alternating scenes from an office party featuring Marty Barsnack as a lonely, nervous guy and Victoria Saxon as a giddy, nervous young woman.

This is not exactly a fresh concept and Saxon, who is burdened with a dumb, pointy party hat, fails to capture the requisite champagne fizz in this ritual courtship. Her voice is devoid of timbre and she appears even physically miscast.

The playwright, of course, is dramatizing ordinary people, but an actor must be larger than life even in a twerpy role. That's why Barsnack as the timid male romantic figure, who doesn't look like such a great catch either, manages to turn his meekness to the play's advantage.

The evening's strongest entries are homosexual-themed: Pintauro's four-character "Watchman of the Night" and the two-character "Uncle Chick."

Using the clever device of an answering machine, "Watchman" (featuring Karl Lucht, Anthony Beninati, Elizabeth Belm and David Overlund) centers on gay lovers in the throes of a breakup. Characters are dramatically silhouetted, so to speak, by their cordless electronic gear.

"Uncle Chick" is another view of gay characters, complicated by the fact that a nephew (Beninati) openly desires his uncle (the dismayed Robert Arce). It's the trickiest play of all to pull off, but the actors are strong enough to make it convincing (especially the passionate Beninati, who credibly overcomes inherent obstacles in a challenging role).

Director Diane Richburg deftly exploits a curving row of multiple doors (set design by Karl Lucht) that highlights characters and expedites the various entrances and exits. But there's a uniform tone about the show that might have been offset by the use of different directors.

Where and When What: "Square Feet." Location: 12655 Ventura Blvd., Studio City (above Jerry's Deli). Hours: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Ends May 1. Price: $10. Call: (213) 466-1767.

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