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THEATER BEAT

'Pants on Fire': A Smothered Attempt

October 21, 1994|SCOTT COLLINS

If Madame Bovary were living today in a big American city, she might resemble the heroine of "Pants on Fire."

Writer-performer Jane Brucker's seriocomic one-woman play concerns a 30-something New York artist (Brucker) who has an affair with one of her male models after years of stultifying marriage. The show runs in the Met Theatre's downstairs space, formerly the sometime home of the old Los Angeles Actors' Theatre.

Ruefully noting that she had always wanted to be buried next to her husband, Brucker's protagonist catches herself: "What am I talking about? I've been buried next to him for the last couple of years."

Such is the wistful-bitter tone of "Pants on Fire," which is sporadically funny and touching but seems to deliver far less than it promises.

A superb mimic, Brucker here imagines a series of amusing encounters between her heroine and a gallery of daft characters: a snooty English woman, a fortuneteller and a pornographic model. Director Anne Beatts, a one-time writer for TV's "Saturday Night Live," may have helped mine the comic potential from these bits, even if their connection to the rest of the plot seems a little stretched.

Yet Brucker doesn't expose enough of her character's psyche to win our sympathy or offer the crucial insights that would elevate the show beyond the level of a somewhat superficial monologue. Particularly disconcerting is this self-absorbed protagonist's lack of concern for how risking her marriage might affect her daughter.

By the end, the viewer is convinced that Brucker's heroine needs either a good therapist or a good divorce lawyer. The play, meanwhile, could stand a good rewrite.

* "Pants on Fire," Met Theatre, 1089 Oxford Ave., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Nov. 19. $12. (213) 957-1152. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

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