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An Amusing 'Date' With Writer's Life

June 05, 1998|PHILIP BRANDES

A natural raconteur, veteran Hollywood writer Harvey Miller brings an affable, engaging persona to a boundless trove of industry war stories in his autobiographical monologue "A Cheap Date With Harvey Miller," at the Court Theatre.

Aptly titled, the evening feels like an informal dinner chat. Miller's self-deprecating style and skillful banter rarely fail to amuse as he recounts his adventures in a career for which he claims to be ideally suited ("looks don't count and mental illness seems to be a plus").

Despite abundant celebrity name-dropping, Miller never lapses into self-aggrandizement. Throughout his reminiscences--spanning his lower-middle class Jewish origins, his Army days, his first comedy writing job for comedian Dick Gregory during the civil rights era, and his long tenure in television ("Love, American Style" and "The Odd Couple")--he positions himself as "a pair of brown shoes in a tuxedo world," always a little out of step.

For all his confidential style, however, Miller maintains a joke-writer's distance from the potentially painful aspects of his stories. Skirted but never explored are the reasons why he's never managed an intimate relationship, or the lapses in his own character he discovered during his ill-fated stint as a producer.

Solo performance pieces by Rick Reynolds, Julia Sweeney and others have raised the bar for the genre in their willingness to confront devastating life lessons. By comparison, Miller's "Cheap Date" makes a fun first date--as long as you're not expecting a serious relationship.

*

* "A Cheap Date With Harvey Miller," Court Theatre, 722 N. La Cienega Blvd. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends June 28. $20. (888) 566-TIXX. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

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