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THEATER BEAT

Reflecting on Misfits in 'Dirty Windows'

May 16, 1997|PHILIP BRANDES

The way Scott sees it, he performs one of the most needed services in L.A. To passing motorists, he's an unkempt annoyance, accosting them at intersections to clean their windshields.

Such are the polar internal and external perceptions that define the plight of social outcasts and blacken the comedy in "Dirty Windows," Donald Wayne Jarman's new play at Hollywood's Gardner Stages.

Suspicion and fear cloud the frequently charming, oddball romance that blossoms between the indigent Scott (Ward Boland) and his intended customer (Ann O'Leary), a guilt-ridden artist-turned-legal-secretary who accidentally hit him with her car. He's phobic about hospitals and she's on the rebound from an abusive marriage, so naturally he ends up staying at her place. It all plays like a kinder, gentler "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea."

With an inventive gambit involving a panhandling narrator-balladeer (Patrick Outlaw), Jarman challenges us from the outset to examine our own attitudes toward the homeless. Unfortunately, Boland's charismatic but unevenly focused Scott doesn't do much to further that agenda. He's far too articulate and socialized, and his glib one-liners make him come across like a sitcom writer on residential hiatus. O'Leary is more sympathetic, but her character's willingness to jump into a relationship with a vagrant is more pro forma than organically credible.

Instead of building to a resolution, the curious ending retreats into past traumas as a way of explaining how these two became misfits. But their tragedies aren't startlingly original enough to shake the sense of pat formula, especially with the play's structural seams so frequently exposed. A solid premise, but "Dirty Windows" needs some cleaning up.

* "Dirty Windows," Gardner Stages, 1501 N. Gardner Ave., Hollywood. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends June 15. $12. (818) 753-7620. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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