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THEATER BEAT

Harrowing Stories of 'People Like Me'

March 14, 1997|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY

"People Like Me," at Playwrights' Arena, was compiled from actual workshops and interviews with gay and lesbian teenagers conducted by playwright Henry Ong. Largely a series of personal monologues, the result is rough-edged, somewhat formless and frequently harrowing.

A talented young cast--consisting of Jennifer Aquino, Hector Contreras, Aaron McPherson, Erica Ortega and Michael Tolfo--crafts its multiple characters with visceral straightforwardness. (The evening this reviewer attended, Tolfo and McPherson also took on the roles of absent cast member Reggie Lee.)

Despite their socially disadvantaged backgrounds and limited vocabularies, these teenagers are often stunningly articulate. Yet behind their assumed worldliness, we sense that these are, after all, bewildered children, prematurely sexualized in a hothouse of psychological abuse, sexual molestation, peer ridicule and a bruising sense of otherness.

Ong, who also directed, has been somewhat arbitrary in his synthesis. Scenes randomly segue into other scenes, and it's occasionally difficult to distinguish between characters, a failing that could have been ameliorated by crisper staging and more precise transitions not only in the performances but also in Robert Smith's lighting.

However, these drawbacks are minor compared to the play's devastating emotional content. More an oral history than a structured drama, "People Like Me" gives eloquent voice to a lost generation's outcasts.

* "People Like Me," Playwrights' Arena, 5262 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends March 22. $12-$15. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

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