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THEATER REVIEW / 'I MUST BE DREAMING' : Funny? Yes. Daring? You Must Be Dreaming


Those two fixtures in countless stage and TV sketches--the office water cooler and the therapist's couch--underscore the romantic comedy "I Must Be Dreaming" at the Knightsbridge Theater in Pasadena's Old Town.

Knightsbridge co-founders and artistic directors Joseph and Barbara Stachura promised a mix of classical and original works when they unfurled their ambitious plans in late June. They have certainly already fulfilled the classical end of the bargain with works by Shakespeare and Samuel Beckett.

And now the Knightsbridge's four-character "I Must Be Dreaming" launches the theater's foray into original drama. The production marks playwright David Artuso's debut as a stage writer in a play that he says is partly autobiographical, but largely inspired by a class he recently took at UCLA in human sexuality.

The characters' Jungian dreams and raging hormones aside, "I Must Be Dreaming" is a bit disappointing as the selection to kick off the theater's new play program.

The play is funny and even cute, and the two male roles (Adam Menken and Steven Memel) are terrifically acted. But as a comedy to showcase the theater's newworks policy, one might have expected something more adventuresome--a daring entree, say, instead of a souffle.

But at least the Knightsbridge has the courage to do original plays. Unlike many suburban theaters in Orange County and the San Fernando Valley, the vast majority of small theaters in the San Gabriel Valley resist anything new and are content to revive plays and musicals from the '30s, '40s and '50s.

The strong suit of "I Must Be Dreaming" is the crisp dialogue and the sharp timing and humorous sputtering of Menken and Memel's two office cronies in search of sex and romance (in that order). How much to credit their achievement to director Joe Stachura is hard to assess. But the two actors are a real find, play off each other with aplomb and invest fairly conventional material with the spark of genuine comedic teamwork.

Some TV sitcom producer should grab these guys. In fact, this script--which actually seems written more for TV than the stage--would make a nifty episode on the primetime sitcom "Good Advice," which features a therapist.

In contrast to the roles of the men, the roles of their love interests and sexually repressed female counterparts are less flavorfully acted and less humorously written.

Tamara Taylor Leigh's therapist and Katherine Armstrong's nervous wreck of a client capably negotiate the play's romantic roller coaster. But Leigh's professional woman is thinly developed and Armstrong's lustful jitterbug is played at a relentlessly strident, hyper clip that lacks any shading whatsoever.

Musically, the show enjoys a good score by Doug LeBow.

But the Knightsbridge, following the patten set by its opening triple card in July, still seems content with rudimentary, unimaginative technical design. In this case, it's a particularly clunky set of interior offices (co-designed by Stachura and playwright Artuso). That shaky water cooler seems ready to tip over any minute, and the divided action between the water cooler and the shrink's office begins to feel like the backandforth rhythm of a tennis match.

But the production, which drew steady laughs from the audience, is a promising start on original drama for the theater.

And since opening in June, the Knightsbridge has installed air conditioning. (Two other current offerings, "The Spoon River Anthology" and "The Taming of the Shrew," are running alternately with "I Must Be Dreaming.")

* "I Must Be Dreaming"

* Where: Knightsbridge Theater, 35 S. Raymond Ave., The Bradley Building, Pasadena.

* When: Friday, 7 p.m., Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Runs indefinitely.

* How much: $10-$15

* Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

* Information: (818) 840-0821

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