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Hard to Commit to Whitefire's 'Love'

October 28, 1994|SCOTT COLLINS

Boy meets girl, boy gets girl pregnant, boy keeps girl at arm's length--that pretty much summarizes the plot of "Careless Love," John Olive's spare, strangely unaffecting drama at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks.

First performed in 1984, the play tackles a touchy, heavily politicized subject--pregnancy outside marriage--but thankfully never devolves into propaganda for either free love or family values. The playwright uses pregnancy mostly as a device to highlight two young people's inability to commit to one another. As it explores emotional numbness, though, "Careless Love" itself grows numbing.

Pat Tanzillo turns in a creditable performance as Jack, an aspiring Chicago actor who verges on a parody of unenlightened machismo . He's the kind of bachelor who keeps curdled milk in his refrigerator and enters his apartment by bowing to a portrait of Jackie Gleason.

Enter Martha (a promisingly unaffected Leonora Scelfo), a pretty dance student who becomes pregnant during a fling with Jack. The two wrangle over a panoply of family issues--adoption, abortion, career, cohabitation, marriage--yet the text feels thin and repetitive, as if Olive were biding time for a dramatic payoff at the final curtain.

Director Richard D. Scelfo hasn't found a way to make this love seem anything more than aimless.

* "Careless Love," Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Nov. 28. $12. (818) 992-6040. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

Herman Strengthens 'Paradise' at Angels

Clifford Odets' plays are deceptively difficult to perform well. His characters wear their hearts on their sleeves, but if played that way their harangues against capitalist injustice can sound stilted and phony.

Such is the case in "Paradise Lost," Odets' tale of the decline and fall of a middle-class family during the Depression, which is getting a shaky revival from the Company of Angels in Silverlake.

More than 20 characters travel in and out of the impossibly busy Gordon household, presided over by obtuse yet benevolent patriarch Leo (Ed Trotta). Odets sketches these personalities with his usual sensitivity to people's dreams and illusions, but director Kenneth R. Klimak and cast are too often not up to the challenge of presenting flawed, complicated characters.

The sole noteworthy performance comes from Harry Herman, who turns flibbertigibbet in-law Gus Michaels into a tragic figure trapped in the past.

* "Paradise Lost," the Angels Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Silverlake. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Nov. 19. $12.50-$15. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.

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