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Bathroom Overflows

Theater review: Funny characters and situations fill 'Shallow Place' with laughs. 'Splat' can't stand up to it.

May 23, 1997|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ANAHEIM — Kirk Huff's "A Shallow Place" and Don Gordon's "Splat," the two one-acts that make up Stages' current bill, have one thing in common: their generic source is sitcom. But the plays are separated by vast differences.

The unmitigated joy of the evening is "Shallow," which rises very far above the general run of sitcom through Huff's invention, individual voice and sense of humor about the human condition that's rare in the genre.

The whole thing takes place in the bathroom of a house where host Robert (Christopher Spencer) is giving a party. The 15 characters, all guests, take turns using the facility for various purposes: for the usual one, for conversation, for a hideaway, for intrigue, for torrid romance. The place is not what's shallow. Huff's point is the shallowness of its revolving inhabitants.

There is no plot whatsoever, which Huff sidesteps in Pirandello-like asides from two of the characters, stoners who meet in the john to smoke, who comment: "You'd think there'd be a story line, or something."

What saves this plotless romp is that it's so funny. It sparkles with hilarious insights into the speed bumps that sometimes trip up the young and the rushes and highs that leave them pointlessly breathless.

It is directed by Patti Cumby with unerring rhythms, and often at clockwork tempos that bring the material the reality necessary for good comedy. Whether scripted or out of the director's imagination, there are frequent sight gags, particularly with the guests wandering outside the window in the yard during scenes inside, that keep the audience on its toes.

There is not a misstep in any of the performances. For honesty and sincerity, there are Carson Bauer and Laura Orlow as a couple trying to rebuild after a senseless breakup. As the stoners, John Bailey and Jon Gaw are wonderful at making their labyrinthine thought processes seem logical, especially Gaw, whose desperate assuredness is a delight.

Chambers Stevens is hilarious as a computer geek trying to be suave, and Michael Quinn is equally funny as an overweight ex-high school jock who considers himself the catch of the evening.

Kara Knappe's attempt at abandon as a love-hungry wallflower is insightful and comic, and, as a totally sloshed kid, David Campos brings the passion of King Lear to his vow to God that he'll never over-imbibe again--if only he can throw up. His final success, out the window, results in one of the funniest and most beautifully timed sight gags of the evening.

Steve Mayeda, Mauricio Robleto, Frank Tryon, Tiina Wiles, Bernadette Balagtas and Amanda DeMaio fill out this exceptional cast in an evening that should have a much longer run than this.

*

The opening one-act, "Splat," also derives from sitcom, but its dated, 1970s style doesn't help, nor does the illogic of its events. An out-of-work telephone saleswoman (Amber Jackson) comes to a park to blow her brains out after throwing her lesbian lover off a balcony. She's interrupted by an out-of-work salesman (Todd Langwell) foraging in trash cans, and thereby hangs a budding romance. Chambers Stevens is just as funny here, as a ballet-loving salesman of sex toys who helps cement the relationship.

The three actors, and director David Amitin's high-energy guidance, help a lot, but they can't keep the play from going "splat."

* "A Shallow Place" and "Splat," Stages, 1188 N. Fountain Way, Suite E, Anaheim. Tonight-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 7 p.m. Ends Sunday. $8. (714) 630-3059. Running time: 2 hours.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

"A Shallow Place"

John Bailey: Oscar

Jon Gaw: Dean

Michael Quinn: Steve

Chambers Stevens: Phil

Amanda DeMaio: Carol

Bernadette Balagtas: Pam

Carson Bauer: Leo

Christopher Spencer: Robert

David Campos: Bill

Steve Mayeda: Paul

Mauricio Robleto: Joe

Frank Tryon: Bryan

Laura Orlow: Tina

Tiina Wiles: Heather

Kara Knappe: Kelli

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

"Splat"

Amber Jackson: Sharon

Todd Langwell: George

Chambers Stevens: Mitch

A Stages production of two one-acts by Kirk Huff and Don Gordon. Produced by Tracy Perdue. Directed by Patti Cumby and David Amitin. Scenic design: Barney Evans. Sound design: Matthew Tully. Lighting design: Adam Clark. Costume design: Laura Orlow.

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