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Campy 'Valley of the Dolls' Steals the Show

February 16, 1995|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A lot of trash has washed over our screens since 1967, when the movie of Jacqueline Susann's "Valley of the Dolls" came out. But for sheer camp value, "Valley" is still the queen of show-biz sagas.

Exhibit A is Theatre-A-Go-Go!'s stage adaptation of the movie, part of a nine-play festival at St. Genesius Theatre in West Hollywood.

The script consists of the Helen Deutsch/Dorothy Kingsley screenplay, lifted almost verbatim except for a few quick trims. Of course it's delivered here with an extra spritz of attitude. If you thought the movie was over the top, wait'll you see the play.

The production values are disarmingly dubbed "cheap" in director Tom Booker's program note, and that's an accurate description. But the low-tech ingenuity adds laughs--for example, when a toy train chugs across the stage, when conspicuously hand-held devices attempt to reproduce lavish lighting effects, or when a bucket of water poses as a swimming pool.

The tone isn't far from that of the old movie parodies on "The Carol Burnett Show." As on that show, the actors here occasionally lose their composure and get the giggles.

*

A few of these giggles (as long as they're not too frequent) can make material like this even funnier. So can those moments when the audience joins in on the recitation of favorite lines.

Although "Valley" is a lot longer than those Burnett sketches, it doesn't matter much. The laughs build, and there's a wacky integrity about doing most of the screenplay--it's not as if they're concentrating on just the sudsiest highlights.

At the center are Eliza Coyle in the Barbara Parkins role as the blueblood secretary-model, Kate Flannery in the Patty Duke role as the aspiring singer (with a pronounced devilish gleam in her eye from the beginning) and Melissa Christopher as the hilariously vacant showgirl/porn star originally played by Sharon Tate.

Benjamin Zook plays Susan Hayward's diva in drag. Jon Kean is the starched-collar, commitment-phobic agent; Layne Beamer the doomed lounge singer, and Jessica Hughes his controlling sister. Director Booker plays the affable publicist, and Michael Irpino handles a variety of smaller roles with deft versatility.

This weekend only, "Valley of the Dolls" is preceded by "You, Me and LSD," another parody of '60s cinema--in this case, drug education films. Here, the satirical target is too remote to justify the piece's length, and some genuinely funny moments are undermined by a jarring reference to a real-life drug tragedy that's treated as just one more joke.

* "Valley of the Dolls" and "You, Me & LSD," St. Genesius Theatre, 1047 N. Havenhurst Ave., West Hollywood. This weekend: "LSD," Fri-Sat., 8 p.m.; "Valley," Fri.-Sat., 10 p.m. "LSD" ends on Feb. 24, 8 p.m. Beginning Feb. 25: "Valley," Sat. 8 p.m. Indefinitely. (310) 285-4646. $9.95 each show. Running times: "Valley": 2 hours, 15 minutes. "LSD," 1 hour, 20 minutes.

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