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VALLEY WEEKEND | THEATER REVIEW

One Man's Story--as Portrayed by Another

Without author John O'Keefe as actor in 'Shimmer,' the piece still shines. Jud Meyers makes the autobiography his own.

May 02, 1996|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For more than 10 years, "Shimmer" remained the sole property of its author, John O'Keefe. Unlike his typical hilariously surreal, often frenetic, ensemble plays such as "Mimzibim," "Shimmer" is an autobiographical memoir piece for one actor. For the past decade, that actor has usually been O'Keefe.

Whether it's on stage, video, radio or public television, "Shimmer" has been thoroughly in O'Keefe's control--and with good reason. It's about a pivotal experience in his life: enduring the tortures and personalities at an Iowa youth detention facility. Watching O'Keefe reenact such a major life passage was special indeed.

But O'Keefe is a writer first, and actor way behind that. What would "Shimmer" sound like without O'Keefe? The answer, at Two Roads Theatre, is revealing. Jud Meyers plays John under David Elliott's direction. The production also is aided by some superb lighting design by Robert Williams.

In a welcome reversal of the usual pattern in smaller theater, this is a production coming to us from New York and its Irish Repertory Theatre (where Two Roads' producer Edmund Gaynes has taken "Bein' With Behan"). This might be the start of a new, interesting Valley-New York connection.

Meyers makes O'Keefe's autobiography his own, imposing a personal accent on the material. He's younger, more virile than O'Keefe, so the story doesn't seem so distant, as if it's still not totally out of his system. Meyers shifts easily into the nervous but strong body of a young guy aching for freedom, and then shifts just as easily among the various characters that circle John like threats or promises.

This is especially amusing as Meyers plays out exchanges between John and his only pal in the facility, Gary. The shorter and geekier Gary, with his nasal voice, needs John as a friend more than vice versa. O'Keefe lacked Meyers' obvious acting tools to exploit the emotion and humor in this relationship; "Shimmer" is now a much funnier play than it used to be.

As John and Gary act out their best Steve McQueen escape, this "Shimmer" revs into high gear with Meyers verbally taking us to a place of danger, panic and a strange ecstasy. O'Keefe's text is explicitly paced, with many allegros and an occasional andante for contrast. Elliott and Meyers stick to the written music. But Meyers lends things an entirely new energy and timbre: He sounds and feels like a naive Midwestern guy whose natural goodness is absurdly out of place in this nasty institutional home.

If Two Roads insists on being a home to exclusively solo works, at least it's home to a solo work that refreshens something that we didn't even know needed it.

DETAILS

* WHAT: "Shimmer."

* WHERE: Two Roads Theatre, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City.

* WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Runs indefinitely.

* HOW MUCH: $12.50.

* CALL: (818) 766-9381.

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