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A Well-Acted 'Brave' Alternate to 'Picnic'

April 30, 1994|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Credit the Company of Angels for this well-acted and thoughtfully staged "Summer Brave," the rarely performed alternate version of "Picnic" actually preferred by its author, William Inge.

Inge claimed his original script had been rushed by schedule constraints and he rewrote the ending to give greater self-awareness and independence to Madge (Sabrina Hill), the small-town beauty who sacrifices her sensible but passionless engagement for a fling with irresponsible drifter Hal (Tomm Gillies).

Other changes were more in the way of streamlining, mostly at the expense of Hal's complexity.

As in the previous version, the older couple (a particularly poignant Carla Klein and Lee Magnuson) complement the headstrong youths with their maturity and sadder but wiser desperation.

"Summer Brave" is tighter and arguably more realistic than its ubiquitous forebear, but also more deliberate and judgmental in its treatment of Hal and Madge's hedonistic abandon. Considerably diminished is the celebration of the fragile moment that fueled "Picnic's" call to "Set the world on fire--to keep the nighttime from creepin' on."

In overworking his play, Inge let some of that fire go out. Director Don Oscar Smith hasn't tried to mediate the loss, but succeeds in faithfully rendering this little-known variant of a classic.

* "Summer Brave," Angels Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake, Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Ends June 18. $12-$15. (213) 466-1767.

'Mouth to Mouth' Touches a Nerve

Middle-aging baby boomers do not go gentle into the dark night, at least not judging from Carol Schlanger's one-woman show, "Mouth to Mouth."

"We're not dead, we're just not young anymore," Schlanger reflects on the maturing process that has replaced her youthful conviction that she was destined for great things with a more humble self-concept--especially regarding her unglamorous marriage (to a husband represented by offstage sawing sounds).

Schlanger's free-associative narrative weaves in and out of a pivotal 20-year class reunion, where the sight of an old flame soon has her sucking on a bread stick and contemplating a momentary lapse. Ultimately, she ends up weighing the pros and cons of the path she has chosen--a boomer version of "It's a Wonderful Life," perhaps, but delivered with humor and heartfelt intimacy.

Schlanger adapts the monologue format well to her own blunt objectives. Where Spalding Gray, for example, relishes lengthy mental gymnastics in his neurotic approach-avoidance conflicts with emotional truths, Schlanger goes for the direct emotional bull's-eye--like her description of suspending life to raise a family. "Not raise--punish," she quickly corrects.

Not all her insights are strikingly original, but they benefit from a high recognition factor as she touches many a collective nerve.

* "Mouth to Mouth," Theatre Geo, 1229 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood, Wednesdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends May 8. $15. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

'From Moscow' Has Campy, Upbeat Spin

How can you keep 'em down on the farm once they've seen Moscow? Chekhov's "Three Sisters" first posed this question amid the quintessential Russian trappings of unfulfilled longing and soul-searching despair.

Fortunately, we Americans are far more superficial. "We're From Moscow or Life Is Trouble," an original musical comedy affectionately adapted by Steven Atinsky, puts a campy, upbeat spin on Chekhov's trio of bored rural siblings.

The high-concept zaniness is appealing but hard to sustain through an extended parody--firm editing is needed. The songs span an amusingly incongruous assortment of pop styles (rock, blues, disco, even an a cappella Elvis spoof), though they accomplish little in the way of character advancement.

The standout performance is by Ellen Plummer, who combines impeccable comic timing with engaging sympathy as the sister who anguishes over possible escape via loveless marriage.

* "We're From Moscow or Life Is Trouble," Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends May 15. $18-$20 (free if you bring a samovar). (213) 660-8587. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

Groundlings' Latest Is Right on Target

"Groundlings Gettin' Some," a new series of comic vignettes centered on those timeless rituals of dating and mating, is an ideal showcase for the Groundlings' versatile performance skills.

Laughter rarely subsides during well-aimed shots at known quantities such as "The Piano," in which the silent, tuba-playing heroine (Jennifer Joyce) communicates with her tattooed suitor (Jim Wise) through charades, or the klatch of chattering biddies in a Victoria Principal cosmetics infomercial.

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