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STAGE | THEATER REVIEW

Love and Loss

Troupe's grief finds outlet in drama about death.

June 12, 1997|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Such are the quiet, assured and thought-provoking qualities of Katherine Burger's superb new play, "Morphic Resonance," at the Eclectic Company that it's best to whisper its praises rather than scream them from the nearest North Hollywood rooftop. But in a coincidence that blends real-life tragedy and art, this company has reached a new maturity with a playwright whose voice should become a major one in American theater.

"Morphic Resonance" is a deceptively intellectual title for a remarkably elastic, mood-shifting drama that involves five fascinatingly different New Yorkers whose lives are changed by the death of one of them, Alice (Francesca Rollins).

The Eclectic group itself recently suffered the death of key member John Schmidt, and it may partly explain the authenticity of the ensemble's performance under Leo Geter's direction. Experience has been channeled back into a gifted writer's language, and the result is theater alchemy of a high order.

This experience could also have led to weepy melodrama, but Burger's witty, ironic play is too wise and tough for that. Her confused central character, rich-gal freelance writer Cleome (Lea Floden) seems too acerbically Noo Yawk to let any guy in the door--yet, in he comes, in the dry, laconic form of Wallace (Christopher Grove), another frustrated writer.

Yet this isn't a writer's play about writers. It's about life's endless capacity for surprise and hazard. It's about how each of us responds to death.

Geter directs Burger's sometimes rapid scenes with dexterity and a bubbly joy; he choreographs the series of human encounters, making three dimensional Burger's irresistibly attractive language and situations. The actors, projecting an uncommon love of their characters, subtly shed the hip cynicism of the early scenes for raw, adult emotional power.

* "Morphic Resonance," 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m., Thur.-Sat. Ends June 28. $15. (213) 466-1767.

*

Low-Budget Bard: Booking "The Tempest" in its summer Shakespeare slot was a good idea by Excalibur Theatre Company. The results are less rewarding. Trimmed to a family-friendly two hours, this edition of Shakespeare's last play--a fascinating, unique amalgam of fantasy, drama and comedy unlike anything else in the Bard's canon--offers up misjudged drama, tepid comedy and mild imaginings on a low budget.

Director Rajan Dosaj (who also plays a gruff Caliban) clearly strives to move things swiftly along on the island where exiled Duke of Milan, Prospero (John Serembe), rules the roost. But he's undermined in a number of ways.

Only Daniel Leslie thrives amid the show's weak comic antics. And while the fantasy is abetted by Jane Longenecker's alluring Ariel, the set is an unsightly world of gun-metal gray. It's not a place where dreams are made.

* "The Tempest," Lionstar Theatre, 12655 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 4 p.m. Sun. Ends July 6. $10-$14. (818) 761-0312.

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