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THEATER BEAT

Unfinished Work in 'Lady Vaudeville'

August 16, 1996|PHILIP BRANDES

There's a taut little story yet to be wrested from "My Lady Vaudeville," Victoria E. Thompson's affectionate homage to a bygone art, but her sprawling initial staging at Theatre East lies somewhere between marble slab and polished statue.

Structured like a vaudeville show--scenes interspersed with authentic period songs--the play doggedly traces 16 historical figures caught up in an early attempt to unionize at a time when performers paid stagehands to keep the scenery from falling on them.

The well-researched troupe members include headliners--a prima donna (Lisa Robins) and a bickering romantic couple (Maaren Edvard and Harris Shore)--and bit players (ambitious Krisi Dennis, Michael Grieco). A poignant subplot spotlights the racism endured by a lonely black singer (David Thomas).

Unfortunately, the dramatic weight of these sketchy portraits isn't cumulative, and a few crystal epiphanies could replace lots of functional but redundant dialogue. Ironically, more creative departures from fact might actually bring viewers in closer touch with the author's passion for her subject.

* "My Lady Vaudeville," Theatre East, 12655 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Sept. 15. $15. (818) 760-4160. Running time: 2 hours, 55 minutes.

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