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VALLEY WEEKEND | THEATER REVIEW

'Outrage' Is Quaint, but Hardly Outrageous

Clare Peck's showcase theater piece is an '80s throwback with some funny moments, though far too few.

August 01, 1996|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Clare Peck's "Outrage 'R' Us," at Ovations, is so much a throwback to the '80s that it's almost quaint. Back then, the town was inundated with this sort of showcase theater, put on by actors eager to strut their stuff for prospective agents and producers--the goal not being richer theater, but a job in movies or TV. I'm sure this strategy has succeeded for some actors; too many have done it for it not to have worked for someone. But I'm also unaware of a single showcase performance that led to a big TV or movie role.

Even though its value, like a beat-up '80s car, has declined, showcase theater still kicks around here and there, and Peck is trying to really kick it into gear at Ovations. But like the venue--which is too brightly lit and unstylish to be properly called a club or cabaret, but is also not quite a theater--Peck's show is betwixt and between.

When the 11 sections of her two-act relate to Peck's life, there's some spine, albeit brittle. She begins with a description of human conception and birth, and it comes across as her most vivid life experience, even though it was the one she couldn't possibly have recalled. This leads, inexplicably, to a non-autobiographical bit on circumcision. Her childhood habit of crying like a police siren makes for one of the show's funniest sound effects. (Peck has a serious pair of lungs.)

Her life story is then put aside for the evening's real agenda, which is for Peck to show off her talents. Out of nowhere pops up the ever-popular, over-exposed "Un Bel Di Vedremo" aria from "Madame Butterfly," which gets a well-acted but rough, breathy treatment here. Then, Peck--who performed in the hit L.A. production of "Creeps," about characters struck with cerebral palsy--throws the show completely off-balance when she plays someone with the disorder. A warm, tragicomic recollection of her Irish mother and Italian father gives closure to the first half, but doesn't rid the impression of a formless show.

*

A glimpse of where "Outrage" finds a fresh, original pulse is when Peck returns and leads us in a battle (audience members armed with foam balls) of cat people versus dog people. It's such fun, nutty interactive theater that anything Peck does after it is a downer. A memory of the struggles of her son Austin (the show's producer) reveals a mother's pain, just like a later sequence about confronting a man who exposed himself reveals a child's pain. An interlude about dumb movie heroines is just a pain.

And the finale, about her younger, mentally "slow" sister, Gracie, is about pain overcome--although it's really about Peck showcasing how nicely she sings "Amazing Grace."

But, "outrage?" The odd title has little to do with the show, directed--but not shaped--by Joan Darling. Peck's life memories blend humor and sadness, but rarely extreme anger. The only heat comes from Peck's torch singing, which is confident but not dramatic, supported by Andy Howe on piano.

"She's so versatile," said a Friday night patron. Versatility should serve storytelling, a means to an end. But "Outrage 'R' Us" isn't really about any story or the emotions it may raise. It's only about means.

DETAILS

* WHAT: "Outrage 'R' Us."

* WHERE: Ovations, 12747 Ventura Blvd., Studio City.

* WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday. Ends Aug. 24.

* HOW MUCH: $12.50

* CALL: (818) 506-1277.

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