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Theater Review

'What Ever' Offers an Audience Endurance Test

March 20, 1998|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It sounds worthy of note in the Guinness Book of World Records--one woman wrote a 10-hour play with 100 characters, and she performs it all by herself, over four evenings.

It's called "What Ever," subtitled "An American Odyssey in 8 Acts," now at 2100 Square Feet.

Heather Woodbury displays remarkable gifts as both writer and monologuist. Her characters are varied and lively, and she plays them with consummate skill. Only one major problem: "What Ever" is too long.

I saw only the second of four parts of "What Ever." It lasted 2 3/4 hours (including an intermission). It's difficult to concentrate on only one actor for so long, regardless of her gifts. At some point, admiration for her creativity and versatility begins to drift into impatience with her seeming unwillingness to share the stage. No matter how many faces she assumes, one eventually longs to see an actual second face.

Supposedly, theatergoers can see and understand the four parts of "What Ever" in any order. For the most part, it's not difficult for a first-time spectator to sort out who's who in the second evening. Out of 22 scenes, only one--featuring an otherwise absent character named Bushie--was difficult to figure out.

Woodbury's primary creations--at least in the second part--are a delightfully tart, old New Yorker named Violet, California teenagers and rave fanciers Sable and Clove, a teenage boy named Skeeter who starts Part 2 hitchhiking across the country from West to East, his aunt Jeanette the crystal healer, her married lover Paul and his wife Polly. Paul and Polly's daughter Sheila also has one memorable scene with her shrink--it's much more coherent than the Bushie scene. The characters and plot strands occasionally come together, though no major theme develops, at least not after seeing only one of the evenings.

Woodbury's vocal range is almost as convincing in the men's parts as in the women's. She switches accents and vocabularies with ease and has a humorist's ear for American speech. With the help of director Dudley Saunders, most of the group scenes are amazingly clear, especially an encounter with five characters--three of them new--in a busy Manhattan store.

*

* "What Ever, An American Odyssey in 8 Acts," 2100 Square Feet, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends April 19. First show, $15; $10 each for subsequent performances. Call (213) 660-8587 for complete schedule.

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