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Theater | * STAGE REVIEW

'Boiler Room' Sizzles

Dan Fante's play about power and sex-driven telemarketers electrifies.

June 04, 1998|JANA J. MONJI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

With more schmooze than Johnny Cochran and an unfailing ability to script his conversations in charming sales lingo, Eddy Kammegian (Douglas Coler) commands his First National Copier Products telemarketing team. They are "an elite assault force" that cold calls and overcharges clients from a small Santa Monica office in Dan Fante's "Boiler Room" at the Actors Art Theatre.

Director Jolene Adams takes full advantage of this venue's cramped quarters and the sonorous voices of her well-tuned acting ensemble to create a high-voltage, high-volume production.

Once "one of the biggest drug dealers in West Los Angeles," Eddy specializes in training "desperate people" to become predators--because predators are winners. Eddy "reverse brainwashes" former drug dealers and addicts into becoming conniving telemarketers with ready-made lies for all occasions.

In the midst of a heated sales competition, with a trip to Paris as the top prize, Eddy encourages a despairing new recruit (Phinneas Kiyomura), indoctrinating him in the winning formula: Make every call a sales call, try early in the sale to make a close, close on every resistance, keep on closing.

When an attractive graduate student (Susan Ziegler) asks to study his entrepreneurial tactics, Eddy is distracted from his sultry employee-mistress Judy (Adelaide Vaughn) and the growing dissonance within his sales force.

Top salesman Freebase Frank (Frank Uzzolino) suspects that Doc (Marty Levy) will make a last-minute win under murky circumstances for the third consecutive year. Frank confronts the sales manager, Dallas (Jimmie F. Skaggs), about his suspicions with unsatisfactory results.

*

Fante's script uses overlapping dialogue that echoes the "master closing formula" like a mantra that eventually imprints itself into the very consciousness of each employee. Sex and power propel these characters as much as the caffeine they need to sustain their continued physical momentum.

Coler is smooth and believable as a man whose sincerity has been obliterated by his own hype. Even in his private life, romance is just another sale. Vaughn plays a sexual predator to be reckoned with, while Uzzolino's Frank is on an indignant testosterone rage. Kiyomura is the innocent being slowly seduced and molded. Skaggs' Dallas is a man who tries to have it all and ends up with nothing.

Adams directs this whole ensemble into a frenzy of macho bluster and posturing, each one oozing with oily charm. Carefully orchestrating the simultaneous conversations and the physical in-your-face attitudes of these slimy barracudas, Adams captures the heat of greed and the pressure of the constant noise, bringing it to a furious boil.

BE THERE

"Boiler Room," Actors Art Theatre, 6128 Wilshire Blvd. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends June 21. $12. (213) 969-4953. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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