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THEATER REVIEW : 'O.J. Law' Hits Simpson Trial Excesses

March 29, 1995|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Under other circumstances, the very idea of a show like "O.J. Law" at the Complex could easily seem the height of bad taste, but that crown has already been usurped by the excesses surrounding the trial itself.

Those excesses, rather than Simpson himself, are the real targets of co-creators Gary Gordon and Ron Birnbach's satirical barbs, which center on the mutation of a legal process into an entertainment industry.

The result is a mixed but frequently hilarious evening, ranging from dead-on spoofs to moronic groaners. O.J. trial junkies are the ideal audience for this specialized item, with its in-jokes as topical as the morning's headlines. Roughly 20% of the show is rewritten each week, introducing an edgy, almost improv-like unpredictability into any given performance.

This perpetual revision forces the performers to read from scripts (some old-fashioned microphones are strewn about to vaguely suggest a radio broadcast--a lame pretext at best). Nevertheless, it's surprising how well the 10-member cast sustains the focus and comic energy in multiple roles.

Among the standouts is Julie Ambrose's slyly subversive prosecutor Marcia Clark, balancing the scales of justice with career possibilities as she submits to a sexy wardrobe make-over.

Greg Eagles is a hoot as Marlon Brando playing O.J. in the Oliver Stone film bio--an inspired improbability so off-the-wall it works. And Carrie Dobro delights in a succession of wacky characters, including psychic hot-line spokesperson Dionne Warwick singing a pun-laden "Do You Know the Way to Save O.J.?"

Another gem is Alicia Hamilton-Smith's depiction of housekeeper Rosa Lopez as a gnome in a knit cap who has to have questions repeated in English with a Latino accent.

But plenty of misfires and odd choices abound as well--much of the courtroom action involves the sidelined Robert Shapiro (Rich Levier) while Johnnie Cochran hardly figures at all, and Judge Lance Ito has disappointingly been replaced by a football referee.

Amid the zaniness, Ambrose injects a moment of chilling sobriety when she appears as the Ghost of Nicole to remind us that two people were murdered--a point well-taken and all too easily forgotten.

* "O.J. Law," Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends April 29. $10. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

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