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Losing Our Masks : Lisa Duke's 70-minute nightclub piece has evolved into a bona fide work on the different sides of our personalities.

August 06, 1993|JANICE ARKATOV | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Janice Arkatov writes regularly about theater for Valley Life.

When "Lisa Duke: Lost and Found" first surfaced as a nightclub piece in July, 1990, the author had no idea she'd still be going strong with the show three years later.

"I had no expectations," says Duke, whose solo work has traveled from the Gardenia Restaurant and Lounge to the Vine Street Bar & Grill, the Rose Tattoo, Cafe Largo, Itchey Foot Ristorante, the Complex, West End Playhouse and, since April, Burbank's Third Stage.

Along the way, she says, the 70-minute show has developed and deepened into a bona fide theater piece.

At its core is a tribute to her father's first cousin, composer Vernon Duke ( ne Vladimir Dukelsky), who died in 1972. "He wrote ballets and symphonies--and black jazz on Broadway," the actress notes. Although she had never met the composer nor corresponded with him, "I found those two different sides of him exciting and inspiring," she says. "And so the theme of this show is how we embrace--and don't embrace--the different sides of our personalities, the masks we wear."

Duke--who actually dons some real-life masks onstage to demonstrate her point--performs seven numbers by Vernon Duke, one of her own songs, and music by Noel Coward, Cole Porter and Jacques Brel. "I sing, I dance, I play different characters, and I have a narrative of Lisa Duke talking to Vernon Duke," she says. Those dozen characters are gleaned from roles she's played over the years--"and also represent aspects of my own personality."

"The show is very contemporary," she says. "It's intriguing to juxtapose current themes with very old-fashioned songs. For instance, I do 'Autumn in New York' (for which Duke wrote the lyrics), and I play a bag lady." Other characters include a 12-step program addict, a yuppie actress and a country-Western singer.

Some of the characters were developed during stints with the improv groups Second City and Off The Wall. Born in Chicago, Duke was raised in Hollywood and studied at the Herbert Berghof Studio in New York and at the USC film school.

The show, she adds, is "about co-dependency and co-dependent relationships: how I always felt I was becoming other people to please someone else.

"So it's about taking off the masks--and who is there when the masks come off. The message is, no matter what, the most important thing is to follow your heart, your gut, your mind."

Producer Leo Fong, whose eclectic resume includes master's degrees in theology and social work, 30 years as a United Methodist minister and 19 years as a martial arts film writer, actor, director, producer and distributor, saw Duke's show in June and has plans to turn it into a film.

"After all the low-budget stuff I've done, at this point, I want to do something that has something to say," he says. "The piece is very powerful. It's about coming to terms with yourself."

Where and When What: "Lisa Duke: Lost and Found." Location: Third Stage, 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. Hours: 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Indefinitely. Price: $12. Call: (818) 842-4755.

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