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THEATER REVIEW : Credit 'Pull' for Display of Bravery : Before an audience of three patrons, the nine performers carry on with the show about a troubled woman.

August 12, 1994|RAY LOYND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Ray Loynd writes regularly about theater for The Times

VAN NUYS — Among smaller theaters, one of the peculiar risks of the business is performing a play before an audience that is outnumbered by the cast.

It's a daunting prospect for theater people, and it happens more often than you realize.

Of course, it's not always rotten luck or bad promotion. On occasion, when nobody shows up at the theater it's just possible that the play is too dreadful to pull in anybody.

Such is the case with "The Cosmic Pull" at the West End Playhouse. Playwright Deborah Mancini is dramatizing what appears to be an autobiographical trauma--a daughter overcoming, with the help of God, a nervous breakdown and a dysfunctional family.

The play is the kind of sophomoric, self-inflated indulgence that first-time writers, which Mancini is, are prone to write. But Mancini further aggravates the problem by casting herself as the protagonist, a troubled young woman who in search of her childhood screams at her alcoholic mom (the droopy-faced Tiffany Henshaw) and her wimpy knucklehead of a father (the colorless Lani Smith).

The experience is undiluted torture for theatergoers, who must also endure an intermission. Imagine what it must be like for the actors, who are all embarrassing to watch, burdened with material that flirts with lesbian yearnings, a long-lost twin sister, a mental hospital and Christian redemption.

But give the actors credit. At the evening we attended, the performers all endured until the end, all nine of them, before a total of three patrons (including one reviewer), not counting the house manager and associate producer, who padded out the audience.

Who directed this mess? The name is hard to find, but it turns out to be Pamela Hall, who earlier did so well directing an entirely different kind of show, the musical "Crazy Words, Crazy Tunes."

Not long ago, Hall got in a squabble with the "Cosmic Pull" producers (we can't imagine why) and asked that her name be taken off the program, which it was.

Amazingly, the production has managed to survive five weeks. "Listen, one night we had 25 people here," boasted the house manager.

It must have been friends-of-the-cast night.

Where and When

What: "The Cosmic Pull."

Location: The West End Playhouse, 7446 Van Nuys Blvd., Van Nuys.

Hours: 8 tonight and Saturday.

Price: $12.

Call: (818) 727-0884.

Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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