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Emotional Tapestry in One-Act Play Series

Theater review: The event at the West Coast Ensemble features work that ranges from a cathartic AIDS drama to a riotous romantic comedy.


HOLLYWOOD — The 11th annual "Celebration of One Act Plays" at the West Coast Ensemble thoroughly engrosses, despite a flawed finale.

The bill's three offerings span the emotional spectrum from a cathartic AIDS drama to a romantic comedy. There's even a mystery-suspense yarn thrown into the mix.

"The One Hundredth Eye," by Lauren Goldman Marshall, plays like a dramatized short story, complete with interior monologues and narrated description. From a slow start, "Eye" builds to a devastating denouement. Call this a two-handkerchief play--impressive considering it runs under 50 minutes.

Joel (Adam Anani) and China (Meredith Louise Thomas), two virtually indigent sculptors, are platonic soul mates--platonic because Joel has full-blown AIDS. Proud and independent, Joel fears the indignity of dependence--unintentionally mistaking China's need for emotional intimacy as pity. Heartened after a concerned benefactor, Demetra (Adelaide Miller), commissions a sculpture of Argus--the 100-eyed beast--Joel and China lovingly labor over their last project together. But Joel's stubborn refusal to finish the statue's 100th eye seems a superstitious effort to stave off his own "completion."

Marshall's modern-day parable initially threatens to collapse into sentimentality. However, the wrenching conviction of director Michael Zemenick and his cast transcends and transmutes any hint of potential sappiness.

The second play, Randy Noojin's "You Can't Trust the Male," shows that even the most nebbishy pot has a lid. Lonely guy Harvey (Ray Rourke) meets Laura (Diane Shaver) at a Spanish class that has been "unexpectedly" canceled. Bitterly on the rebound, the strident Laura would probably scare off a less staunch admirer than Harvey. What Laura doesn't realize is that Harvey, a mailman, has used felonious measures to arrange this "chance" encounter.

Without the deft staging by Richard Israel, Noojin's pithy piece could have been just another high-decibel comedy about urban neurotics. Classic character actors both, Rourke and Shaver respectively delight as an ordinary guy driven to daring measures and the refreshingly undemonstrative object of his affections.

Although very watchable, Richard Strand's "Charlie in the Present Tense," directed by Anita Adcock, is a dramatic cheat, a fact largely disguised by Richard Ruyle's and Darrell W. Gurney's gripping performances.

In Strand's skewed reality, a brain-damaged cop (Ruyle), who is suspected of murdering a fellow officer and then attempts suicide, is isolated from his family and appropriate counsel by a manipulative police interrogator (Gurney). A cross between a police procedural and a pulp mystery, Strand's tale violates the rules of both genres, sacrificing authenticity for a predictable "surprise" ending.

* The 11th annual "Celebration of One Act Plays," West Coast Ensemble/at the Lex, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends Sept. 15. $15. (213) 871-1052. Running time: 2 hours.

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