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THEATER REVIEW : 'Parking' Heats Up L.A. Project One-Acts


One-act play festivals have been flooding Los Angeles in recent months. Now, the Ensemble Studio Theatre's L.A. Project dives into the spate with "Summer Shorts," a collection of five one-acts at the Fountain Theatre. The offerings range from genuinely amusing to mere drops in the bucket.

James Morrison's "Parking," one of the shorter plays, is also the best, a warp-force and furious comedy that taps into the most universal and powerful emotion of the technological age--urban traffic Angst .

Ray (Barry Kramer) is not characteristically this splenetic; it's just that he has been blocked into a parking place for 35 minutes on the busiest shopping day of the year by Gene (James Dumont), a blithe Yuppie who thinks the world revolves according to his Filofax.

On the surface, Morrison's premise is deceptively slight, but Ray's passionate diatribe is nothing less than a thinking man's outcry against the decline and fall of Western civilization. Director Anne O'Sullivan and her fine cast make this point--hilariously.

On the surface, Garry Williams' "A Blooming of Ivy" is also slight. Dig deeper down, and you'll find it is still slight--but that isn't bad. Williams' engaging romance about the wooing of a longtime widow by her newly widowed farmer neighbor is distinguished by its Shaker-like simplicity. Kate Baggott directs efficiently and affectionately, eliciting charming performances from Barbara Tarbuck and Charles Parks, old-shoe actors who are so worn in and comfortable that you hardly realize they're "on."

Susan Merson's "Star Train" also features the coming together of two lonely people, a widowed mother of three (Ann Talman) and an aging, flamboyant songwriter (Jake Dengel), who meet on the back platform of a cross-country train, circa 1955. Merson goes out on a sentimental limb and lands in schmaltz in her sweet but stilted drama, which has been somewhat haltingly directed by Art Wolff.

Another failed effort is Keno Rider's "New York," about an HIV-positive artist fed up with the brutality of city life. The play ends with an extreme gesture of love and self-sacrifice by the man's lover that is intended to both shock and move us. This is risky stuff- but the risk doesn't pay off. Unfortunately, since Rider has not sufficiently developed the dynamic between his characters, the ending seems merely manipulative.

The entire second act is occupied by Carole Real's "Why the Beach Boys Are Like Opera," an intermittently funny piece buoyed by a likable cast. If you liked the film "Where the Boys Are," you'll probably go for this light-spirited comedy, in which a trio of three longtime gal pals kvetch over the appalling state of modern romance while searching for their dream man. Although Real's take on women may seem reductionist to some, the play is pleasurably escapist fluff in which happy endings are enjoyed by all, including the audience.

* "Summer Shorts," Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood. Nightly at 8 through Saturday . Matinee Saturday, 3 p.m. $15. (213) 663-1525. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

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