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Theater | STAGE REVIEW

Heavy and Lite Artillery

'Gunplay' at the Actors' Gang offers sketches and videos that hit, sometimes miss, their target.

May 29, 1997|JANA J. MONJI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Pre-show videos featuring bikini-clad, high-heeled babes (first name and stats provided) peeling off rounds from various automatic weapons may provide the wrong impression. "Gunplay," an uneven bill of skits, short scenes and videos at the Actors' Gang, doesn't waste time with cheap shots at NRA poster boy Charlton Heston or parading bimbos for effect, but Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd do make a cameo (cartoon montage by Eamon Harrington and Adam Prince) in this complex and far-ranging examination of the depth of America's obsession with firearms and violence.

Mick E. Jones' opening and closing sing-song segments, both called "Bang Bang," range from predictable to poetic, and the first sketch, "Katie & Frank" by Theresa Rebeck, is a good idea (well-performed by Laura Jane Salvato and Tim Ransom) that goes nowhere.

Yet the overall production is well-acted and well-paced, driven by the sound designers' percussion orchestration. Among the first act's highlights are Dana Smith's "Gonna Be the Jam," where two teens (Sean Lesure and Chuma) discuss how grand their funerals will be. Director Yule Caise allows a little sappiness when the nerdy bookworm (Quincy Le Near) arrives--making this basically a "Be cool--stay in school" piece.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is pathetically funny as a slightly xenophobic slacker student in a multicultural class who makes an off-the-cuff oral presentation on the Bill of Rights in Lisa Loomer's "Danny Boy." Douglas Segal directs with acidic humor.

As the flighty student nurse on her first cadaver prep, Lucy Alexis Liu is touching in Stefani Relles' "Numb." Andrea Stein as the no-nonsense head nurse skillfully conveys brusqueness melting into gentle support.

Unfortunately, the beginning lines of Stephen Sondheim's "Gun Song" could use more abdominal support. Tico Wells' introductory and solo passages are weak and feathery. But the four singers (Wells, Geoffrey Nauffts, Daniel T. Parker and Maddie Corman) harmonize well and give a mostly satisfying rendering under Jace Alexander's direction.

The second act is more solid. "Teef," by Orlando Jones, deals with black-on-black snobbery and violence. "Waiting Woman," an excerpt from Jose Rivera's "The Street of the Sun" (currently playing in full at the Mark Taper Forum and reviewed on Page 46), is a quietly poignant portrayal of a mother's anxiety fueled by crime in the city and her son's lateness, sensitively played by Valerie Bickford under Veronica Brady's direction.

Seth Zvi Rosenfeld's "La Familia" about two homeless Latino kids (Tracy Vilar and Doug Spain) who work for a drug dealer cutting and distributing the goods is a wild tangent. The rumblings of violence are too distant (Vilar's character is stealing from the customers and convinces Spain's to join her).

Patrick Breen asks just how depraved TV audiences are and how desperate actors are for fame in his snuff-channel fantasy, "Silence." Audiences get to handle a gun in Jane Anderson's parody of infomercials and self-help evangelists in "Smart Choices." Julie White as a woman with "long-term aggressive thinking," showing America why guns are good, is hilarious set against Bruce Wright's deadpan, no-charisma assistant.

BE THERE

"Gunplay," Actors' Gang, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends June 15. $15. (213) 466-1757. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

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