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Stoppard, Handke Paired by Odyssey

November 04, 1994|PHILIP BRANDES

Playing fast and loose with the traditional theatrical boundaries between viewer and subject is the unifying theme in Odyssey Theatre Ensemble's "2 Bitz"--director Ron Sossi's eclectic pairing of Tom Stoppard's "The Real Inspector Hound" with Peter Handke's "Offending the Audience."

The majority of the evening is entertainingly spent amid the satirical coils of Stoppard's signature wordplay and upended dramatic conventions. In "Hound," those conventions hilariously unravel as a pair of pretentious drama critics (John Boyle and Joe Ochman) become all too literally drawn into the dreadful whodunit they're reviewing--with lethal results.

Stoppard, who did time as a drama critic before achieving fame as a playwright, knows the territory all too well. His reviewers opine with appropriately empty cant ("it has elan while at the same time avoiding eclat" and so on), and their behavior pretty much defines the parameters of the profession: Philandering Ochman chases after comely actresses while second- string Boyle resentfully schemes against the lead critic he's standing in for.

These dead-on characterizations, cleverly interwoven with a deft parody of cliched melodrama, are the ultimate embodiment of a theater artist's revenge fantasies, although they tend to make a reviewer feel like Porky Pig watching a Farmer John commercial.

Less successful is the program's short opener, a defanged staging of "Offending the Audience." Handke's daunting (and taunting) deconstruction of theater and language makes the audience itself the dramatic focus as five actors (Alan Abelew, Jusak Bernhard, Beth Hogan, Mimi Lieber and Angela Perry) by turns flatter, coax, cajole, ridicule and challenge the assumptions of their viewers. But Sossi's unwaveringly playful staging blunts the sharper edges--in place of the Handke's German Existential soul searching we get frisky nihilism, California style. Title notwithstanding, it would be easier to take offense at a quintet of Santa's elves.

* "2 Bitz," Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. Wednesdays, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Dec. 4. $17.50-$21.50. (310) 477-2055. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

'Snow' Triangle at Playwrights' Arena

On the surface, about the only thing "Wet Snow" at Playwrights' Arena seems to have in common with its inspirational source--Fyodor Dostoevsky's "Notes From Underground"--is a healthy mistrust of the fiction that people are governed by rational principles. Yet both works also depict self-serving intellect as a fracturing wedge that cuts us off from feelings and human connections.

In a crisp, unadorned staging by Sid Montz, Steven Leigh Morris' tight, well-written contemporary love story diagrams an unsentimental triangle involving a cynical, indolent photographer (Steven M. Porter) who carries his self-absorption to extremes by starting an affair with his wife's teen-age god-daughter (Sydney Bennett). In part, he does it out of spite for his wife's (Elizabeth Oakes') ambition and energy (he refers to her, as Dostoevsky's narrator might, as "one of those imbecilic people of action").

When the girl turns out to have ulterior motives of her own, our antihero discovers he's not nearly the shaper of his own destiny that he fancied himself, and the ironic resolution is an elegant consequence of these characters' twisted motivational geometry.

* "Wet Snow," Playwrights' Arena, 5262 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Nov. 19. $15. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

'Blithe Spirit' Lags at West Coast

The creaks and cobwebs in West Coast Ensemble's "Blithe Spirit" revival are manifestations not so much of supernatural intervention as the deadwood in Noel Coward's dated ghost comedy that Chris Hart's handsome but leisurely staging has failed to exorcise.

Adding a dawn-of-World War II backdrop lends some context but no internal weight to Coward's frothy tale of a writer haunted by his deceased first wife, much to the chagrin of his second.

Erin Donovan and Beth Taylor Hurt make a spirited pair of spouses--Donovan's prim snobbery nicely complements Hurt's breezy mischievousness. But Don Shenk's stiff portrayal of their husband conjures up only Charles' stuffy eccentricity with none of the charm or sex appeal that would spur these engaging women to combat, mortal or immortal.

* "Blithe Spirit," West Coast Ensemble, 6240 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends Dec. 11. $15. (213) 871-1052. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

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