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THEATER REVIEW

'Swinging' a Mixed Offering

March 25, 1997|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY

In comedy, it's relatively simple to establish an amusing premise. The real trick is the payoff. Far too often, a play--or film or TV sketch--starts off strong, then sputters out.

Strangely, writer-performer Steven Byrnes suffers the reverse problem in his one-man show "Swinging Wild" at the Zephyr. Byrnes' "very fairy tale" about two substance-abusing stars--a guitar-smashing heavy metal rocker and a Lord-fearing country music idol--who fall in love at a rehab clinic, lingers in the doldrums far too long before blowing up some genuine comic lunacy.

To his credit, the audacious Byrnes throws himself headlong into his wacky creation. However, as a performer, Byrnes lacks finesse, as seen in his inconsistent dialects and blurred character shifts.

Paul Linke (whose own solo show, "Time Flies When You're Alive," remains a benchmark in the field) directs Byrnes with professional smoothness, glossing over his histrionic limitations and keeping the action flowing. G.B. Guidinger's cartoonishly accented set achieves laughs all by itself. But Linke needs to wean Byrnes away from his mime-like, overly literal hand gestures, a sure sign of the inexperienced actor.

* "Swinging Wild," Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends April 5. $15. (213) 660-8587. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

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