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VALLEY WEEKEND | THEATER REVIEW

'Sand Castles' Message Buried in Shallowness

The misguided play manages to make the superficial characters more interesting that those with substance.

July 25, 1996|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

With a play like "Sand Castles," whose stumbling dialogue and dearth of ideas are so relentless, you hunt and search for anything under the bland surface. Here, shallow L.A. young people party and have fun, while sensitive, thoughtful types remain virtuous or want to be by their miserable selves.

So, what playwright Adrienne Maxwell seems to be suggesting is that L.A. is no place for people with substance.

But the play is weirdly myopic about the joke it plays on itself: Forever looking disapprovingly at shallowness, the play, in fact, treats substance in the shallowest way possible. And without question, some of the "shallow" folk are more interesting--and amusing--than the dullard and the sourpuss Maxwell is concerned with.

The bore is a newcomer from Mississippi named Kevin (Troy Harris) who wants to act, but oddly almost never talks about it. What he does talk about is how much he'd like to get to know people.

The sourpuss is Alex (Maryann Majick), who lives in Kevin's condo building and who Kevin would really like to get to know. Being a sourpuss, though, Alex blows off Kevin like so much lint.

The rest of Maxwell's long two-act takes us further, though no deeper, down the course of Kevin's attempts to woo Alex. In scene after scene after scene, Alex refuses to have so much as a conversation with Kevin, but Kevin tries anyway. Everyone in the building, with the exception of Kevin, refers to Alex as "a bitch." She calls Kevin "a walking cliche" as he "carries a torch for her." Both judgments are damningly correct.

Little of this, by the way, is written or directed (by Lisa Morton) as comedy. Kevin remarks in an early scene that he's having "a Melrose moment," which we take as meaning "Melrose Place." That weekly bit of TV trash is, actually, the perfect model for "Sand Castles," because Alex's character at least would have been deliciously nasty and vituperative.

She is, instead, in Majick's opaque performance, a thoroughly self-absorbed, sniping character who is herself a walking cliche of bitchiness. The wrap-up of Alex's situation is supposed to suggest something of life's ephemera, but the only ephemera is what we're looking at.

*

What makes "Sand Castles" a comedy that doesn't know it is one, is Kevin's inexplicable obsession with Alex. He can't explain it, Alex can't understand it. Harris plays him as nice, forthright and empty. A smart writer would fry this guy on the satirical griddle.

Even more perverse, the very people Maxwell wants to satirize are fairly engaging. At least Kevin's show biz-savvy roommates Jake (Kurtis Rintala) and Albert (Andrew Davids) are alive. They joke, they're a little creative, they bring people together. They're pretty lame clowns as theater clowns go, but in a play so hellbent on spending a lot of time with walking cliches, they're something.

DETAILS

* WHAT: "Sand Castles."

* WHERE: Lionstar Theatre, 12655 Ventura Blvd., Studio City.

* WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Ends Aug. 25.

* HOW MUCH: $12.

* CALL: (310) 281-7483 or (818) 761-6783.

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