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Theater Review : An Appealing 'Act of Imagination'

November 16, 1994|NANCY CHURNIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SAN CLEMENTE — Playwright Bernard Slade shot to fame in 1975 with "Same Time, Next Year," an unlikely but quirkily funny and affecting tale of a man and woman who have an annual tryst for more than 20 years.

It's hard to imagine "An Act of the Imagination" being fashioned from the same mind. Continuing through Saturday at the Cabrillo Playhouse in a San Clemente Community Theatre production, it's a neatly crafted but creaky little mystery--clever, but hardly insightful except for its references to the ways a writer can cannibalize and reconstruct his own life for material.

The troupe acquits the play reasonably well under Robert Berman's competent direction. And the show's twists may genuinely surprise mystery fans--simply by virtue of the play's being so little known.

Mystery writer Arthur Putnam has just finished a brilliant novel about a married man who is having an affair and who is afraid someone is trying to kill him. Putnam has based the character on himself, but is he having an affair like his hero? He denies it, but his wife and editor aren't so sure. And when a woman, claiming to be the lover in the story, shows up and threatens blackmail, the mystery deepens and darkens.

Tom Scott puts an affecting, vulnerable spin on the bookish Putnam, but we need more emotional abandon at crucial moments from Barbara Hollis as his wife, Julia. And Dennis Eiche could pour on more charm as Simon, Arthur's son from his first marriage.

Tim Mull is nicely deadpan as Sgt. Fred Burchitt, a policeman and amateur acting and mystery buff. Janet Lee injects vivid passion into the proceedings as Brenda Simmons, the woman who claims to be having an affair with Arthur. Richelle Matheny does well as Arthur's earnest young editor, Holly Adams.

*

Gail Spielman's costumes and warm, lived-in-looking set capture the ambience of a writer's world nicely, complemented by Erica Guerra and Terri Gilbert's lighting and the sound by Jim Bras.

The only serious problem in this appealing though hardly mind-bending production is that, like the criminal who makes one crucial mistake, the theater has made a revealing goof: the program's double credit for one actress (left off this review's cast list). A fictitious name would better preserve the mystery. In a play like this, where secrets are the play, giving away even one clue is a crime.

* "An Act of the Imagination," the Cabrillo Playhouse, 202 Avenida Cabrillo, San Clemente. Wednesday-Saturday, 8 p.m. Ends Saturday . $10. (714) 492-0465. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes. Tom Scott: Arthur Putnam

Barbara Hollis: Julia Putnam

Dennis Eiche: Simon Putnam

Tim Mull: Fred Burchitt

Richelle Matheny: Holly Adams

Janet Lee: Brenda Simmons

Sherryl Wynne: Brooke Carmichael

A San Clemente Community Theatre production of a play by Bernard Slade, directed by Robert Berman. Sets and costumes: Gail Spielman. Lights: Terri Gilbert and Erica Guerra. Sound: Jim Bras. Dialect coach: Janet Lee. Stage manager: Erica Guerra.

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