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Theater | * STAGE REVIEW

Sermons From Stage in One-Acts

'Thorn & Bloom' pokes fun at Hollywood and human frailties.

July 16, 1998|LAURIE WINER | TIMES THEATER CRITIC

As part of their revenge on Hollywood, writers have long depicted it as a soul-degrading place, the devil's feeding ground. Writer-director Michael Patrick King goes for the opposite effect in "Thorn & Bloom," a crisp and funny evening of two one-acts at the Court Theatre in West Hollywood. In the first, "Thorn," he paints the irresistible visual supposition: What if Jesus had lunch at Orso?

Jesus (a wonderfully mellow Chris Sarandon) arrives in his tattered burlap robe and crown of thorns, carrying a large, unwieldy wooden cross. "You can't leave that there," the harried waitress says. "That's a service area."

Jesus comes to Orso on the invitation of a gay screenwriter (Donald Berman), who has come out to everyone in his life except for Jesus, with whom he hasn't spoken since he was an altar boy. He wants Jesus to know.

"Thorn" is full of good Hollywood jokes, still funny no matter how standard. "Don't you know who this is?" the screenwriter indignantly asks the moody waitress (the hilarious Amy Aquino), who is being rude. She glances at Jesus, deadpan. "No, I don't watch TV."

Jesus also goes unrecognized by a sleazy agent (Allan Wasserman), a setup that builds to the world's greatest agent joke, masterfully handled by Wasserman and Sarandon. After that, though, when the screenwriter delivers a maudlin confession about his boyhood angst, "Thorn" seems like a dozen other plays.

The second one-act, "Bloom," is a monologue by the wonderful Joanna Gleason who plays a kind of spirit tour guide. She addresses the audience as if we were a congregation of free-floating souls about to reenter Earth. She gives us tips on what to expect as well as insight into the cumbersome new bodies we've apparently just been issued. Dressed in Good Humor Man white, Gleason is an excellent guide--precise and definitive without being snappish, firm but kind.

Speaking from an Olympus way above human perception, she fills us in on the real dope. "You can have plastic surgery and achieve surface perfection," she advises, "but you will lose the chance for true beauty."

The word from up on high is that gossip is a much more valuable activity than any organized religion. The only half-decent group is the Shakers--because of the chairs.

But to describe this evening is to give away all the good lines. In the end, "Bloom" adds up to more than "Thorn," though "Thorn" is funnier. King has a gift for mixing up spiritual and earthly planes while always knowing what's funny on both of them.

BE THERE

"Thorn & Bloom," Court Theatre, 722 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood, Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends Aug. 16. $20. (323) 660-8587. Running time: 90 minutes.

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