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THEATER REVIEW : Actors Get Personal in 'Life Time' : Drama builds on a collage of experiences. But the tales are so trouble-free, they don't seem real.

July 29, 1994|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Robert Koehler writes frequently about theater for The Times

STUDIO CITY — Like any lab, lab theater requires its visitors to enter with caution. As the term im plies, it's hatched by the theater's resident artists. The material stirred up in the dramaturgical vials is often personal, perhaps autobiographical, and even more often raw--as in first-draft raw.

By this standard of lab theater, Two Roads Theatre's current experiment, "Life Time," is perfectly fine. It is so uncongealed that the actual author credits go out to, well, everybody. The writers are Mark York and Darrell Rooney, but the program informs us that the show was "conceived" by York (who is also credited as director), while it was also "created" by the company.

"Life Time" is a case of everyone tossing their favorite ingredients into the brew, which is simmered and stirred slowly. It takes the form of a collage of moments from the lives of seven people (plus glimpses of a few offstage), from birth to death. While they all eventually grow out of childhood, Rooney's set of child's toy blocks suggests that they never quite leave childhood behind.

This, alas, may be the most interesting idea in "Life Time," which is badly split between an urge to lampoon a rosy "Ozzie and Harriet" view of Americans growing up and the urge to promote it. The clues are laid early on that these lives will be generally ones of upward mobility, personal fulfillment, tranquillity and general satisfaction.

Oh, there are a few blips along the way--kid sister is a pain, the booze gets out of control. But the lives in "Life Time" are generally so untarnished that they cease to resemble real life at all and begin to resemble television life.

So, whose lives are these? Another program note states that "while much of what you see in 'Life Time' is based on truth, it is not always the truth of the actor who speaks it." Thus, the lives of ensemble members Rooney, Johnny Cann, Karen Getz, Steve Lanza, Julia Rogers, Sam Williams Neukom and G. Charles Wright aren't exactly on view here, even though the characters they play share their first names.

These people come of age in what sounds to be the '60s and '70s and, yet, there's no sense of the era's cultural upheavals. The widest range we hear is on the subject of spiritual belief, ranging from devout Christianity to atheism. Nobody dies prematurely; nobody gets pregnant at the wrong time; nobody, in fact, suffers any dramatic loss, except of offstage acquaintances whom we never meet.

Now there's much to be said for putting decent people on stage; Wendy Wasserstein has been making a career of it. But uniform decency is as bland as uniform nastiness. Lanza, for instance, is a born skirt-chaser, but ends up as loyal and monogamous as everyone else. Only Wright, as a film student, projects an air of irony, which this lab experiment is deeply in need of. That, and a lot more time behind closed doors, before the public is let back in.

WHERE AND WHEN

What: "Life Time."

Location: Two Roads Theatre, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City.

Hours: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 7 p.m. Saturdays. Ends Aug. 13.

Price: $10.

Call: (818) 766-9381.

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