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THEATER REVIEW : Read It and Weep : 'Jane's Journal,' which tries to deal with women's issues--freedom of choice, independence and single motherhood--tries one's patience.

January 14, 1994|RAY LOYND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Ray Loynd writes regularly about theater for The Times

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — How's this for a contemporary theatrical premise? A young woman, an expatriate American film critic living in sexually liberated 1970s London, precariously maintains two lovers who are unaware of each other until she becomes pregnant and is compelled to level with her sweethearts about her double life.

Complicating matters is the multiple life choices faced by this free-spirited, devil-may-care woman, who has absolutely no clue which of her lovers is the father-to-be.

Poor soul--at least she has a glamorous job (which she takes for granted) and can mercifully narrow the actual dad down to two. Since one of them is black and the other white, all will be clear in good time.

Now let's be fair. True, "Jane's Journal," in its premiere staging at the Limelight Playhouse in North Hollywood, is meant to be essentially a comedy that doesn't take itself too seriously until its preachy, humble ending.

But it's hard to feel empathy for the heroine, the expressive, raven-haired Merry Shaman, who constantly plays it over the top. Fortunately, the men in her life--Brian I. Lester's sensitive burglar and Clyde Talley II's black Oxfordian lawyer--are affable, sympathetic characters. Contributing needed vibrancy is Jane's devoted girlfriend (Susan Reno)--another movie critic. Talk about a play understating careers, these women never even discuss movies, the arts or remotely suggest critics.

What you feel is impatience with a play that wants to connect with women's issues--primarily freedom of choice, independence and single motherhood--but that is neither universal nor faintly that handy, all-purpose, intended hyphenate, comedy-drama.

At the heart of this smug little four-character adventure is a self-congratulatory tone that seems, from a '90s perspective, fundamentally dated. Given that the title role is performed by the playwright herself (who adapted the 1974 novel "Jane" by Dee Wells), it's probable that director Kevin Shaw was either overly permissive or that Shaman the actress could not step sufficiently back from her script and control her frequently loud delivery.

What kills the play finally is that Shaman has an air of enjoying her performance too much. That's confounded by the play's fragile structure, in which Shaman's iconoclast is recording her life story on a tape machine and slipping into dramatic flashback. Such a device can be artful, but here it demands that she address the audience directly, and her monologues, rather than being heart-felt or brushed with easy, self-mocking charm, are delivered self-consciously.

On the technical side, values are sharp, notably Kurt Gill's lighting design, the smoothly workable, non-credited apartment design and interludes of Beatles music.

Where and When

What: "Jane's Journal."

Location: Limelight Playhouse, 10634 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.

Hours: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Jan. 23.

Price: $12 general; student/senior discounts.

Call: (818) 753-3374.

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