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THEATER | THEATER REVIEW

A Strange Ride

In 'Taxi Tales,' the cabbies perform solidly as they deal with life's weirdos.

April 16, 1998|ROBIN RAUZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pity the poor cabbies in "Taxi Tales." They're no angels, to be sure, but the passengers they pick up are perverts, cons and criminals.

Strange and darkly comic, Leonard Melfi's "Taxi Tales" comprises five one-acts, each more disconcerting than the last. The soul of the piece is the cabbies, all well cast, who deliver solid and appropriately quirky performances.

If occasionally they talk to themselves too much, well, at least it was an interesting trip.

The play can be done with as few as six actors, all playing multiple roles, but director David Anthony Dion cast more than 20.

His other extravagance is the Doo Wops, a five-part a cappella singing group that provides a musical introduction to each act. It's a palette cleanser, a chance to shake off the weirdos from the last cab ride and get ready for the next ones. In the first segment, Taffy (Jennifer Buttell) is working a second job as a cabby to support her lover. Frustrated by her codependent relationship, she opens up to two newlyweds, who are more aroused than sympathetic.

Another couple tries to pick her up for a sexual encounter. Buttell maintains an upbeat outward appearance with desperation seeping through the cracks.

Taking a drunk and his two prostitutes to the airport, Toddy (Jonathan Ginsberg), too, opens up a little.

In a gripping monologue, he tells of meeting his deaf-mute wife, and how things went terribly awry when she regained her hearing.

Tripper, a young stoner cabby in the third segment, has the perfect glazed-over look. How else could he ignore the incestuous family in the back of his cab?

Particularly pitiful is Teaser (Dan Wingard), the ultra-nice cabby who gets a pointy stick in the eye. On a rainy day, he picks up three passengers--a contessa, a gigolo and a nun--people whom, it seems at first, have nothing in common. While Wingard is appealing as the boy-scout driver, Thomas DeBacker steals the scene with his over-the-top gigolo Spike Horn.

"Taxi Tales" ends on an odd note, with the elderly Tuckers driving a cab even though Mr. Tucker (Nicholas Nicholas) is near death.

The piece is the best of the five at drawing out the characters in the course of the action, but one isn't sure what to make of Betsy (Elizabeth Griffin), a rape victim, and Lefty (Gregory Lee Kenyon), a bank robber. Probably fine on its own, the segment can't carry the weight of closing the whole program.

Otherwise, the production by the Dark Night Players is low frills, but nicely done. The set is a sparse cab--two bucket front seats and a bench rear seat--surrounded by graffiti-covered walls. The subtle sound cues of traffic or airport noise are also effective without being distracting.

BE THERE

"Taxi Tales," at the Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends May 10. $12. (818) 845-4483 or (818) 845-1464. Running time: two hours 30 minutes.

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