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THEATER REVIEW : A Giddy Spin on Movie Land : The wonderful town of Hollywood in 'Favors' is where power and gender struggles are the staff of life.

July 23, 1993|RAY LOYND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Ray Loynd writes regularly about theater for The Times

Hollywood, so ripe for the plucking, has been skewered so often in plays and movies that it takes an inordinate ly bright production to make movie land look fresh again.

But "Favors," by first-time playwright Laura O'Hare, achieves just that, turning the Two Roads Theatre in Studio City into a giddy, witty female spin on making it in Hollywood.

Rather than concoct a variation on Kaufman and Hart's satiric "Once in a Lifetime" or Clifford Odets' vitriolic "The Big Knife"--arguably the best plays ever written about Hollywood--O'Hare has found her own metier. The Hollywood of "Favors" is neither a comical travesty nor a corrupt and venal place, but rather a wonderful town where power and gender struggles are not merely its magnetic field but the staff of life.

O'Hare, who as a story analyst has banged around the studios enough to pick up the nomenclature, myths and ethos of the town, is not necessarily easy on Hollywood, but she's never mean-spirited either. In tone, for a handy reference point, think of Robert Altman's recent movie, "The Player." Except that the major players here are women.

In this sense, the play takes unique theatrical advantage of the strides women are making behind the camera. Reading roman a clefs into the play is part of the fun.

Seemingly inspired by producer Julia Phillips, there is the abrasive Vivian (Kathleen Bailey), a former studio head who has retired to Santa Fe to write a tell-all book and is now plotting a power move back. There is Corinne (Terry Davis), a sharp-tongued Hollywood maven who knows absolutely everyone, uses the phone like Liz Smith, and talks and acts like torrid former talent agent Sue Mengers.

And there's decent, sweet but not-as-naive-as-she-appears Sharon (Elisa Pensler Gabrielle), a Hollywood girl Friday who writes scripts on the side and parlays a "favor" into a screenplay option from the play's only male player--Chris (Steve Blackwood), the oh-so-smooth production chief who would kill to find out what that viper Vivian wrote about him in her book. He's so unctuous, he purrs.

There's even a smarmy waiter (Charles Michael) with the kind of barely tolerant demeanor you find at Hollywood watering holes.

Well, you get the idea. While none of this may sound awfully original, it's not so much the plot but the fast, clever dialogue, the pell-mell staging and the whiz-bang performances that send this two-act comedy into a nice little orbit all its own.

If anything, director Joe Lambie could let up a bit. The jitterbug Davis, for example, is vivid and gifted, but here she's so arch and glib that she threatens to become a parody of her own character.

The genuinely hilarious performance is Bailey's brassy manipulator. In a secretarial "nightmare" scene, Bailey delivers virtually a monologue as a fist-banging studio harridan haranguing her cowering secretary in a wildly funny and inventive performance.

Finally, what "Favors," in its female bonding, really harks back to is Ruth McKenney's "New Yorker" stories, about two Ohio sisters trying to make it as a writer and actress in the Big Apple, which became the play "My Sister Eileen," which, in turn, became the Broadway musical "Wonderful Town."

Anyway, with a lyrical name like Laura O'Hare, the playwright already has a step up on Hollywood.

WHERE AND WHEN

What: "Favors."

Location: Two Roads Theatre, 4348 Tujunga Blvd., Studio City.

Hours: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 7 p.m. Saturdays. Ends Aug. 21.

Price: $10.

Call: (213) 883-9698.

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