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THEATER REVIEW : Exploring the Shady Side of the Law : 'Justice' takes a darkly comic approach in describing attorneys who try to manipulate the system.

June 09, 1995|RAY LOYND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Ray Loynd writes regularly about theater for The Times.

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — The unglamorous workaday world of lawyers is the darkly comical sub ject of "Justice," in which justice is not a matter of right or wrong but any angle a shyster lawyer can apply to it.

Playwright Terry Curtis Fox wrote this play in 1979, but it's revival now is ironic and timely, given the pervasive influence of the heady Dream Team. Welcome to a Legal Reality checkpoint, as in Shakespeare's prescient line (reprinted on the program cover), "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."

The Chicago lawyers in this play--crisply staged by producer/director Bill Van Daalen at the American Renegade Theatre in North Hollywood--work in an unprepossessing office with a single, forlorn Venetian blind and where the dominant motif is a Chicago Bulls jersey hanging from the wall. But when these inhabitants, viewed over the course of one day, are not talking about women and sports, they do ply their trade, grimy as it is.

The language is raw, as in vulgar, and the theatrical tone might remind many theatergoers of playwright David Mamet.

The star of the show (the flinty, scabrous, roll-up-your-sleeves engaging John Tayloe) divides his time between putting a veiled squeeze over the phone on characters late on bills and, in a more serious second act, breaking up with the woman of his life (the vivid, no-nonsense Scott Neisser). She arrives in the second act, cool and confident, unloading her lover's apartment furniture in his office and stunning her by-now-fading ex with a jolting, equal opportunity announcement.

In a play that caroms around a lot, another character (Michael Pasternak's deceptively devious hanger-on), footloose and rootless and the protagonist's best friend, tries to sell his law buddy on a humorously sincere buy-in scheme about "prepaid divorces" for newlyweds.

The firm's corrupt senior partner (the exceptionally well-cast R. J. Miller) demonstrates his lawyerly skills by replaying a telephone recording to a hooker aimed at sexually entrapping an errant husband, followed by office chortles all around.

Playwright Fox is also storyteller enough to dramatize one of the exasperated Tayloe's crook-clients (Patrick Cupo, whose sharp street accent nicely balances his requisite tough-light touch). He packs a tiny silver pistol under a black leather coat and might just as well have emerged from the underbelly of "Guys and Dolls."

As a dramatist, Fox, who wrote such episodic TV as "Hill Street Blues" and also has done criticism for Film Comment, never overstresses his message about slipping and sliding legal justice, as if he's sketching in stone. The result is a fresh, entertaining production.


Where and When

What: "Justice."

Location: 11305 Magnolia Blvd. North Hollywood.

Hours: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday. Ends July 2.

Price: $12, with senior discounts.

Call: (213) 936-1594.

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