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THEATER REVIEW : Loony Farce Runs Out of Gas in 'Malibu'

August 11, 1993|RICHARD STAYTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Even paranoids have to laugh. That's the principle behind "Marooned in Malibu," a loony farce about Hollywood wanna-bes, at the Tiffany Theatre.

Daniel Hopsicker's play poses a worst-case scenario for a troubled industry: A fire is out of control, the Santa Ana winds are raging, an earthquake is about to erupt, a tidal wave is offshore and the masses are burning the idle rich.

"I've seen the future--it belongs to crowds," anxiously cries a horrified network executive.

Does the rest of the country give a damn? A CNN poll asks: "The L.A. fire--should it be put out?"

Not even gated communities and state-of-the-art security can protect Hollywood's elite. So a few escape to a Malibu beach house.

But that's where they confront the real enemy: themselves.

The Marx Brothers meet "The Day of the Locust"? Not quite. "Marooned in Malibu" intends to be apocalyptic slapstick. Before the show, security cops roam the lobby and frisk audience members. Looney Tune cartoon music cues us to laugh. A yellow caution ribbon serves as the stage curtain. When the police tear it off they command: "We don't have a lot of time, so laugh quickly."

But hysterics are not necessarily hysterical. The characters are two-dimensional, card-carrying members of the lunatic fringe. This can be amusing, especially while Hopsicker's satiric scalpel maintains its cutting edge. (Sample line: "In this town, a screenwriter is anybody with opposable thumbs.") However, by the ludicrous end the farce is running on fumes.

Even so, "Marooned in Malibu" has much to recommend it, especially a gifted cast that's obviously relishing a chance to perform over-the-top at full throttle.

Director Mark W. Travis has opted for a hellzapoppin' pace to cover plot holes. When the bride and groom stagger into the beach house (a delirious Deborah Van Valkenburgh and Larry Poindexter), they're arguing at peak volume. After six hours of marriage, they already hate each other.

Which is fine with the bride, since ex-husband David (an appropriately lunatic Brian Brophy) breaks in to woo her back. Divorce is OK with the groom, too, because bimbo actress Chantel (a pitch-perfect Cathy McAuley), kept by his father-in-law, is far more appealing. There's a problem, however, which Chantel succinctly explains: "I happen to like older men--they have more money."

When that older man arrives, his wife is with him. Never mind the sex, says the groom to the millionaire: sign the deal memo.

David Spielberg and Barbara Stuart are lost as the elderly couple, straining archly to keep pace with the company. But Antony Alda transforms a cliched role--the spurned gangster--by simply maintaining a dignified stance within the hysteria.

"Marooned in Malibu" ultimately maroons its performers. In farce, no amount of opening and closing doors can compensate for missing context. Characters who enter laughing exit paranoid, wondering who killed the comedy.

* "Marooned in Malibu," Tiffany Theatre, 8532 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Indefinitly. (310) 289-2999. $20. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

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