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VALLEY WEEKEND | THEATER REVIEW

Faces Are Familiar in Solo Show

Actress-playwright Lynne Adams shines, although her script too often tries to turn her character into a prototype.

August 29, 1996|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Lynne Adams' solo play, "Two Faced," may be set in the Hudson River Valley of New York, but the piece has enjoyed perhaps its longest, headiest life in Los Angeles. It may be that people find in Adams' Elizabeth a baby boomer they can identify with--one in her early 50s who is torn between sensual youth and inevitable graying.

Critics have lauded and awarded both Adams' performance and her play, which is currently running 40-or-so minutes shorter and in the form of a one-act with no intermission. And while the positive critical response is helping to lure audiences in to see "Two Faced," now in its revival at Actors Workout Studio, empathy for the character of Elizabeth is even a bigger draw.

She is very likable, and does not present herself as a theatrical character. In solo pieces from the recent "Girly Show" to "Family Matters" to "Mark Twain Tonight!" characters have erected sturdy fourth walls, but not Elizabeth. She confides to us from the bedroom of her 18th century Nyack, N.Y., house, treating us as though we're her other best friend (not Stephanie, the one she talks about). From the start, she's already intimate with us, and her quick-witted smarts, combined with self-deprecation, make her hard to resist.

Elizabeth is not extraordinary in any way, and her story is mostly humdrum--which is precisely why she's an object of empathy. She is a contemporary divorcee with two grown kids. She is undecided whether to sell her house or go back to work to support it, and she is especially insecure about her looks. The title partly refers to her two physical personas: the natural one--with sagging skin and graying hair--and the one she creates for work and for other men--lots of makeup, skin smoothing devices, a kinky brown wig. She feels "older and younger, desirable and discardable in the same day."

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Adams' problem as a writer is that she's much too intent on making Elizabeth the prototype aging boomer. Prototypes too often lose credibility and become cliche ridden, which is what happens when Elizabeth tells the audience about reading a book titled "Menopause and the Inner Child." Elizabeth's worst characteristic, her total self-absorption, seems more a boomer cliche than a real characteristic.

In this way, the play itself is two-faced--one minute displaying amusing honesty and surprising quirks, the next minute creating a kind of case study, call her Boomer Woman.

Adams the actor wants no part of this, making sure that Elizabeth is as specific as possible, and nobody's demographic object of examination. Adams veritably writhes and wriggles as Elizabeth contemplating going to bed with another woman--making her inner hotblooded teen a lot more interesting than her inner child. Real discomfort is conveyed by Adams when Elizabeth first gets all gussied up for work, but as time goes by, she looks at ease in her wig. This is a subtle physical performance.

And since this is a play about a smart, with-it woman hiding behind masks, it is a rich role for an actor whose art is based on hiding behind a mask. It's a performance that also lets us see in sharp focus the offstage people in Elizabeth's life--especially Pierre, a potential beau, and Miranda, her militant feminist lover.

Even her lovely Hudson River house plays a significant role, though at Actors Workout this turns out to be an unfortunate circumstance, since the set (credited to Adams) is a few bits of furniture with a bleak black backdrop. Director Brooke Adams should step in and make sure there's more of a house onstage. Elizabeth deserves it.

DETAILS

* WHAT: "Two Faced."

* WHERE: Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.

* WHEN: 3 p.m. Sundays. Runs indefinitely.

* HOW MUCH: $12.50.

* CALL: (818) 506-3903.

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