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Theater Review

'Mirror' Made Up of Too Many Fragments

June 28, 1997|LAURIE WINER | TIMES THEATER CRITIC

An ape who hates captivity, a tortured transvestite, two brothers plotting the murder of their parents and Bluebeard's last wife: What do they have in common? Very little, as it turns out, but they are all corralled by Joyce Carol Oates into her theater piece, "The Secret Mirror."

Presented by the Attic Theatre Ensemble as the second installment in its Oates "Collage Play Trilogy," the evening comes off as a series of unrelated scenes in an acting class; some succeed at being interesting, others are interminable. If there is a quality holding these vignettes together, director Thomas Jackson has kept it to himself.

As it does not cohere, "The Secret Mirror" must be judged by its separate elements. One of the few lively pieces, "The Anatomy Lesson" presents a young girl (the convincingly juvenile Holly Wade) who demands to know who she is and how she got here. Her mother (Karalee Austin) tries to answer her questions by pointing to the illustrations in an anatomy book, an explanation so unsatisfying that the girl becomes almost hysterical. In fact, the mystery of life's origins seems much better expressed by the girl's hysteria than the mother's textbook regurgitations.

Another striking piece is "The Psychic." "I'm Julius J. Glass!" proclaims Ed Keaveny, with the slick mania of a TV huckster who promises you can make a million without leaving your home. This psychic, though, is on the level. His gifts are a burden to him. Hired by the police to help solve the case of a missing little girl, he must be the medium of terrible news. He looks into the audience and answers questions no one has asked. "Of course I am not married," he says. Intimacy is impossible for someone with his gifts. If he gets too close to someone, "then I am you," he says, and that is intolerable.

Most of the other pieces are monologues and manage only an anemic poeticism. The worst is the title piece and the last scene in the evening, "The Secret Mirror," in which a Norman Bates-like transvestite (Steve Oreste) carries on an anguished discussion with himself in a mirror as he slips into a wig and a "wedding gown." His overwrought confessions go on and on. While he keeps checking the door to see if it's locked, some of the audience may be waiting to fly out of it.

* "The Secret Mirror," Attic Theatre, 6562 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, July 5, July 10-12, 19; Aug. 1, 8, 15, 22, 29. Ends Aug. 29. $15. (213) 469-3786. Running time: 2 hours.

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