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* STAGE REVIEW

'Opinion' on Love

Five one-acts on two stages move audiences from offbeat to the hackneyed.

April 30, 1998|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Playwright Richard Hellesen examines the permutations of flawed love in "In My Humble Opinion," five one-acts presented by Los Angeles Repertory Company. Hellesen has an ear for sophisticated dialogue; sometimes he's even facile to the point of preciousness. Despite this, he's also a crafty practitioner whose deeply humanistic entertainments are consistently diverting.

Director Peter Ellenstein engineers the proceedings with a sure hand. The plays are in two theaters, the Robert Pickering Studio Theatre and Studio B across the hall. The audience shuffles about a bit, but elaborate scene changes take place without long delays.

Pierre Vuillimuere's sets are painstaking, especially the graffiti-bestrewn trailer of "Layin' Off the Lizard Boy," the opening play. Hellesen's riskiest venture, this offbeat comedy about a freak show entrepreneur (James Noah) and his lizard-skinned employee (Kristofer Soul) could have been self-consciously outre. However, thanks largely to the touching chemistry between Noah and Soul, Hellesen's extreme characters are delicately rendered. Elizabeth Reilly is a hoot as the offstage fat lady whose diet threatens her status as star attraction.

Less successful is "Untamed," which picks up Shakespeare's Kate and Petruchio after years of marriage. Disgusted with her hubby's high-handed machismo, Kate (Reilly) sues Petruchio (John Herzog) for divorce. The piece, in iambic pentameter, is thematically anachronistic and hackneyed.

"Counting Ninas" features two old friends on the cusp of wrenching change. A brilliant composer, Michael (Thomas Kopache), is dying of AIDS, and Peter (Alan Safier), his longtime theatrical collaborator, fears his career will perish with his associate.

"Four One-Hundredths" is a show-biz yarn about an unscrupulous agent (Soul) and his naive Olympic swimmer client (the radiant Stephanie Schneider). Paul Greengross plays a photographer who, by accepting his role as amoral onlooker, compromises his art.

While predictable, "Dos Corzones" is a sweet tale about an Anglo woman (Evelyn Halus) who gets a lesson in mother love from her Spanish-speaking hospital roommate (Jill Remez). Martina Paz alternates in both roles.

BE THERE

"In My Humble Opinion," Robert Pickering Studio Theatre, 6560 Hollywood Blvd., 2nd floor, Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends May 30. $12. (310) 226-6997. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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