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STAGE | * STAGE REVIEW

The Tortured 'Landscape' of the Middle-Class Soul

April 16, 1998|JANA J. MONJI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

What happens when a Latino gigolo decides to follow a client home to see a slice of Middle America? In Kevin Barry's "Distracted by the Landscape" at Moving Arts, everyone is in for a few surprises in this sexy, slightly twisted look at life and love in the suburbs.

A bored housewife, Connie (Therese McLaughlin), journeys to a New York presidential convention as a delegate and has a nervous but wild fling with a hustler and sometime waiter named Dorado (Mark Pfau). Without telling Connie, Dorado shows up in her hometown and quickly seduces and is seduced.

Barry hasn't created a slick boy toy. His Dorado hasn't become a well-oiled machine with all the right moves, although he claims he's "a master of a woman's body." He's still a poor country boy who reads books only to get turned on, yet can be sexually shocked by a 15-year-old girl's (Frankie Cohen as Lolita) orgasmic obsession with beauty pageants or an overly aggressive housewife, Donna (Julie Briggs), with "Mambo Kings" fantasies. Barry's world is filled with characters comically bored and pathetically looking for physical satisfaction.

Pfau plays Dorado with boyish charm and befuddlement. He's sure of his sexual prowess with his slight swagger, but not of the new perversions he encounters in the wilds of Midwest middle-class life.

McLaughlin's Connie is a well-intentioned, repressed good girl whose husband, Cliff (Richard Ruyle), has lost interest in her only to discover lust for Dorado. Ruyle gives a hilariously lecherous rendition of a repressed man bubbling with barely controlled desires for his new and totally unqualified employee.

Cohen's Lolita is a shrill, foul-mouthed sexual opportunist with a ruthless need to seduce men in her new $210 dress. Sex for a passing grade, sex for power and sex for fame are all part of her future plan. As Donna's husband, Van Stewman Jr. is a melting mound of flesh, groveling and captivated before this little nympho.

Director Mark Kinsey Stephenson makes this campy play work by deflating the titillation factor a notch and emphasizing the crazed limits to which these normal people are driven to make whoopee. Barry's ending is a bit pat and somewhat stilted under Stephenson's direction, but all in all, it's sexual mayhem well-done.

Martha C. Wilson's naively simplistic mural representation of the American landscape serves as a fitting background for this sexual farce.

BE THERE

"Distracted by the Landscape," Moving Arts, 1822 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Dark May 8-10. Ends May 17. $14. (213) 665-8961. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

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