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THEATER REVIEW : 'Off White' a Trio of Plays in Brief : Direction and performances are enterprising, but the one-acts fall short.

June 23, 1995|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; T.H. McCulloh writes regularly about theater for The Times

SHERMAN OAKS — At first glance, "Off White," whatever it means, seems to be a clever umbrella title for Iain Anderson's three one-acts at the Whitefire Theatre. What slightly smudged personalities has he created? Is he going to take us into some gray area of existence, provide a tarnished view of the human condition?

Anderson does all this, but to no avail. All three of the plays look like a more developed playwright's brief sketches to remind himself about longer plays he might want to attempt one day. They are unfinished sentences, like the experimental plays dashed off in the '60s and early '70s, and mercifully forgotten today.

"Dead Lake" is about a couple stranded in their trailer in the dead of winter. Hungry and angry, Abe and Alice scream at each other. Their threatening, belittling and bitter potshots never fulfill any dramatic intent. Van Quattro and Bari Buckner give the piece energy but can't overcome its thinness.

Quattro has more to work with as John, opposite Harry Hutchinson as Lee in "Me Ow," about two workers on a psychic riff in a convention-center storeroom. It's a clever idea, revolving around the power of suggestion and misguided concentration, but Anderson never develops it into a statement. Hutchinson's kaleidoscopic personality changes help, but not enough. As the lights dim, several cats are heard in nocturnal rapture, but it has nothing to do with the play.

There is more form and depth in the final play, "Departure," but that may be because it looks like an idea Tennessee Williams tossed out. Waiting in a bus station, Stan (George Muschamp) and Ms. Layla (Molly Atwood) are a couple who are opaque to an extreme, and only the performances give the play a finished look.

The actors strongly indicate that something interesting happened before they got to the bus station, and that even more fascinating events will greet them at the end of their journey. When Anderson figures out where his intent is headed, it might make a strong longer drama.

Director Michelle Truffaut has done everything theatrically possible to make the snippets come to life, including the introduction during set changes of Billy Long endlessly jumping rope, a sort of pseudo-bridge, like Lillian Gish endlessly rocking the cradle between sections of D. W. Griffith's "Intolerance."

Where and When

What: "Off White."

Location: Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

Hours: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday. Ends July 9.

Price: $12 to $15.

Call: (818) 513-9745.

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