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'Architect': When Opposites Don't Attract


The Open Fist Theatre loves to grab tough projects. It's made its mark with a number of daring productions of complex, non-commercial foreign works. Yet that's both this gutsy company's rare virtue and a liability, as its "The Architect and the Empress of Assyria" shows.

Fernando Arrabal's abstract drama features a pair of opposites thrashing it out in a garden of Eden. Originally penned for two men, it has been adapted here for two women by director Ziad H. Hamzeh.

A poetic collage that attempts to call on the carpet many of the sociological and philosophical tenets of Western culture, "The Architect . . . " is ultimately more of an intellectual exercise than a drama. Still, Hamzeh and company have given this knotty text an even more striking production than it deserves.

Both Martha Demson and Elizabeth O'Connell deliver bold performances in their protracted pas de deux. Although they play what amounts to Nietzschean archetypes of the Apollonian and the Dionysian, they manage to personalize their characters.

Near the end of the play, even Jung worms his way into the eclectic dialogue ("I want you to be both you and me at the same time," says the Empress to the Architect.) But the problem with all this philosophizing is that it's more arch than dramatic.

In fact, the most theatrical part of this production is Russell Edge's amazingly lush tropical set, with its pools, greenery and large dripping stalactite hanging upstage (metaphor, anyone?). Loinclothed waiters bearing fruity umbrella drinks could burst on the scene at any moment.

* "The Architect and the Empress of Assyria," Open Fist Theatre, 1625 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Oct. 2. $15. (213) 882-6912. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

Ceiling Needed on 'Basement's' Pathos

Thomas George Carter's "Teamsters Basement," a strong if flawed duo-drama of damaged masculinity, was first staged here at the Cast Theatre six years ago. The current cast revival features the same first-rate actors and director. It might have made sense to opt for a more recent Carter work instead.

Truckers Kenny (George A. Simonelli) and Manny (Talbot Simovitch), a couple of guys who used to know each other, are about to be riding together thanks to a new union rule. They've just found this out when they meet in the Teamsters building basement.

Over the course of a conversation that vacillates between aggression, strutting and compassion, the two dredge up some memories, both individual and shared. But they spend most of the time boasting about real or imagined sexual conquests and, later, complaining about their own private life wounds.

This otherwise tight play starts laying the pathos on too thick about half-way through, to the point of straining credulity. Even if you stay with these guys through their fearful, misogynistic griping, it's not so easy to swallow Carter's overdrawn rendition of their damaged pasts. And from there, it's just a short hop to some utterly expected revelations about these guys' sexual identities.

The staunch Simonelli and Simovitch milk this sometimes trenchant, sometimes purple, script for all it's worth. But you still come away feeling like Manny and Kenny should just join one of those tom-tom and tepee men's groups and shut up already.

* "Teamsters Basement," Cast Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hollywood . Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Sept. 18. $7. (213) 462-0265. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

'Firecracker Contest' Can't Find Its Spark

A sturdy cast like the one in Beth Henley's "The Miss Firecracker Contest" at Theatre 40 is a real find. Unfortunately, it takes even more than that to make up for the liabilities in this well-known playwright's decade-old second work.

A treacly portrait of a couple of twisted siblings and their misfit cousin, "The Miss Firecracker Contest" is about poor, misguided Carnelle (Stacey Stone) and her obsession with winning the tacky local beauty contest.

Henley often has dual threads of precious melodrama and dark comedy running through her works, particularly "The Miss Firecracker Contest." But director Ricardo Gutierrez's conventional staging emphasizes the bright side at the expense of the more compelling darkness. And Henley Lite, no matter how well acted, is just a sentimental two-step.

* "The Miss Firecracker Contest," Theatre 40, Beverly Hills High campus, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Oct. 3. $14-$17. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.

'Carol,' Sideshow a Hoot of a Night

"Glamour is as glamour does" is the byword of "The Lovely Carol Show," hosted by an effervescent gal with big hair who's as swell as her moniker suggests. This kitschy review at Theatre Geo may be a bit loose. But hey, it's great fun for the late-night silliness that it is--and chock-full of spot-on parody to boot.

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