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Theater Review

A Quirky, Funny Spotlight Focuses on L.A. in 'Town'

November 14, 1996|JANA J. MONJI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Kate Noonan's play "The Skin of Our Town" may be inspired by Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," but instead of focusing on the folksy and the ordinary, Noonan details the peculiar and builds a quirky, sometimes snippy examination of our town, Los Angeles, at Glaxa Studios.

Noonan follows the three-act foundation (daily life, love and marriage, death) of "Our Town" but tosses out love and marriage to deal with death in Act 2. Act 3 is about "bridging the distance" between life and death, reality and imagination and now and the future for a city that has had "close calls with total destruction." Yet the vision is not tragic, as in "Our Town," but one that recalls the reconstructive spirit of Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth."

Embellished with vibrant ethnic flourishes and textured with humor that ranges from sardonic to wickedly catty, this play paints a full picture of American life and is unlikely to be restructured as some Norman Rockwellian fantasy.

Beginning on a day in April 1992, Noonan, with a "Dragnet" Sgt. Friday deadpan delivery, introduces Los Angeles in statistical detail. In quick and amusing succession, a cross-section of Angelenos is introduced, and we learn about daily life through the neurotic musings of a Brentwood woman (Carol Katz) who constantly worries about leaving her stove on. We get philosophical history lessons from a bemused, slightly embittered Gabrieleno Native American (Victor Herminio) and social and political reports from a man (David Nichols) who is more interested in plotting a continuum of actresses based on talent and salable personalities.

The soft purr of a deejay (Laura Leyva) who supplies wry commentary and a cruising couple (Mike Dolotta and Stacey Williams) who take "advantage of those SIGalerts" by identifying road-kill give connectivity to the Southern California car culture.

Nichols is wonderfully snide in his pseudo-intellectual postulations that apply Plato's teachings to the careful categorization of actresses both dead and living, and Thea Constantine is simply a one-woman riot in her portrayal of a nasally whiny space case who has her own special insights into Los Angeles.

Although the movie projected at the very end seems out of place, Noonan's creation is fresh and funny and well-paced under her lucid direction.

* "The Skin of Our Town," Glaxa Studios, 3707 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Ends Dec. 15. $15. (213) 660-8587. Running time: 2 hours.

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