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KID BEAT

'Red Chief' Held Hostage to Its Adaptation : Theater: The Coronet production of the O. Henry classic is lively, but some additions are jarring.

April 17, 1993|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was O. Henry who created the original "Home Alone" kid. In his short story "The Ransom of Red Chief," published in 1910, a feisty little boy so terrorizes his two bumbling kidnapers that they're willing to pay to have his family reclaim him.

It's not surprising then that Serendipity Theatre Co. is making the most of the comparison in its lively production of the classic at the Coronet Theatre (playing today and Sunday). What is surprising is that the company didn't stick closer to the original. Questionable material in the adaptation by Brian Kral undermines an otherwise well-staged show.

Erick Weiss and Otto Coelho shine as the Laurel and Hardy-esque kidnapers--lanky Weiss in red long johns and overalls almost steals the show--and young Josh Sulier seems to relish his role as the small terror. (Adam Wylie of "Picket Fences" will play the role today and Sunday.)

Director Sam Kuglen skillfully steers the action around the nifty abandoned mine set designed by Katy and Ken Realista. It has intriguing hidy-holes and a stalactite that drips real water, while Ken Realista's spooky lights give it a mysterious underground look.

The good quality of the production, however, and the fact that its target audience is age 4 and up, make the script's references to early 20th-Century Asian stereotypes and the kidnapers' gun-pointing threats to kill the boy all the more jarring. Neither were part of O. Henry's original story.

"The Ransom of Red Chief," Coronet Theatre, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd., today, 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 1 and 4 p.m., $12 ($ 6 for ages 13 and younger); (310) 652-9199.

Drip Dudes Help the Environment

Hip-hop drops: If you see a bunch of oversize raindrops boppin' around, they're the Drip Dudes, a bunch of hip space visitors on a mercy mission to Earth to spread their "reuse, reduce and recycle" message.

The six alien environmentalists, who travel under such monikers as Drippy Dan, Sweaty Sam and Leaky Lee, will show up today at Universal Studios celebrity "Earthwalk" event, hosted by Chevy and Jayni Chase beginning at 9:30 a.m., and will do a full stage show at Paralta Canyon Park on Sunday as part of Anaheim's Earth Day celebration.

They will also help the city of Riverside celebrate Water Awareness Month with a free stage show at the Riverside Municipal Auditorium on May 12 at 10 a.m. and street shows that evening at 5:30, 6:45 and 8.

In reality, the six are part of a group of inner-city youths, ages 16 to 21, who wear colorful, cartoony suits as they tour nationally for Action for Kids, an entertainment-oriented, educational program that focuses on social issues of importance to young people: substance abuse, violence, prejudice, literacy and the environment.

"It's really going to take everyone working together to save the planet," said actor Ben Mittleman, president of Action for Kids. The Drip Dudes can help, he said, because they were forced to leave their own planet when it became too polluted, and now "they are posing on Earth as a rock 'n' roll group" to spread the word.

Dancing, singing, sometimes whooshing around on skateboards and water slides, the Dudes tour city centers, fairs and theme parks to give children "ethnically diverse, superhero role models to look up to," Mittleman said, "delivering the message that the planet has to be cared for."

An added dimension to the program, he noted, is the fact that most of the performers, many hired through open auditions, are from South-Central L.A.

"Even though they are teaching kids about reclaiming the Earth, they're kids who are reclaiming their own lives as well."

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