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THEATER BEAT

'Mantrap' Makes Light Morality Play

August 30, 1996|JANA J. MONJI

If the title of the latest offering from Playwrights' Arena, "Springing the Mantrap," creates visions of gold-digging babes with silicon-enhanced figures wrapped in spandex, guess again. Chad Thumann's play is about a multimillionaire who has just murdered an artist, the woman he takes hostage and the deal they strike.

This pleasant piece of fluff is a morality play that strives to amuse rather than strike a chord of discomfort.

After waiting seven years, super-snob Ashton (Ken Roht) has killed his friend Jake because this world-renowned artist wouldn't produce a suitable fountain for a marriage present. Never mind that there is no impatient fiancee or girlfriend; such little details hardly bother a man just named by Cosmopolitan as the most eligible bachelor. Determined not to go to jail, Ashton consults with his lawyer (Christian J. LeBlanc) by cell phone. Seeking refuge in his bathroom, Ashton holds the only witness to the murder, Jake's opportunistic art dealer (Joan R. Ranquet), at gunpoint.

Thumann's offering is light, mostly predictable entertainment that promises to be even more stylishly silly with some more polish. Joshua Fardon's direction could use some tightening, but for the most part he ably supports Thumann's air of whimsy. Roht portrays an aloof man who is both dotty and petulant. Roht and Ranquet are more a pragmatic pairing than victim and victimizer or predator and prey. The murder victim remains an abstraction, too nebulous to form sympathetic bonds with.

All of which signals that whatever the questions of morality may be, neither Thumann nor Fardon will allow this to get in the way of entertaining the audience.

* "Springing the Mantrap," Playwrights' Arena, 5262 W. Pico Blvd. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Sept. 21. $10. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 1 hour.

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