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THEATER REVIEW : Rockin' 'Billy' Is Ambitious, But Uneven

December 08, 1994|RAY LOYND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Basement Theatre's Alternative Stage, a forum for original, experimental works, is staging an adventurous, albeit uneven "Billy the Kid," embellished by a rock score.

Unfortunately, the Pasadena theater, which has been producing shows in the basement of the First Congregational Church for the last 10 years, can't meet an increase in the church's rent and will be compelled to move out at the end of the month, destination unknown. Pasadena can ill afford to lose another live theater, particularly one that stages new material instead of old chestnuts, but the Basement will be looking for a new home after its annual Christmas show, "The Gift of the Magi."

"Billy the Kid" is an ambitious production staged as a collage, utilizing poetry, black and white slides, rock music, dance, history and dramatic dialogue.

That's a lot to squeeze into a comparatively short production (just over an hour in length). As a result, director David G. Robinson and playwright Dave Faul sacrifice plot and clarity for fluidity of style. On the other hand, the cast is fresh and vibrant, even if their vocals are frequently drowned out by the instrumental music.

The show opens promisingly to the infectious, original rock beat of two onstage dude musicians (guitarist/keyboardist Robin Banks and bassist Dave Finley), knocking out accompaniment to black and white projected blowups of the real Billy the Kid.

When Billy the Kid (Rick Fitzgerald) suddenly materializes on stage, it's a jolt to see his wiry, light frame and facial features so strongly mirror the grainy projections of the real, dusty Billy. Fitzgerald catches the punky outlines of Billy's character and much of his reckless, feral nature.

When he guns somebody down, for example, the act seems random and casual. In lyrical counterpoint, his gun is toylike, made out of wood, and the pistol shots are soundless.

But the fuzzy, poetic aspirations are too much for the play to accommodate and Billy never emerges as clearly as he should. A spirited female quartet (singers Ashley Stepp, Victoria Goodman, Sharon Sancer and Doreen Zetterlund) are visually flavorful but their words are incomprehensible under the too-loud keyboard.

"Billy the Kid," Basement Theatre, First Congregational Church, 424 E. Walnut Ave., Pasadena, today, Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m. (9 p.m., Dec. 15-17). $12. (818) 683-1651. Ends Dec. 17. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

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