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THEATER NOTES

There's a Moral to Be Learned, Somewhere

October 29, 1998|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's strange to witness a playwright offering up moral dilemmas in two one-acts, and then abandoning them for no good reason.

That is what Edward Allan Baker does in "Lady of Fadima" and "Dolores," (written in 1987) under Mary McGuire's direction at the Raven Playhouse.

In "Fadima," a series of odd artistic choices defuses what could have been a dramatic bombshell. While Billy (David Shofner), supervisor of the maintenance crew at Lady of Fatima hospital in Providence, R.I., is sexually harassing rookie crew member Terri (Bridget Morrison), the more compelling conflict is between Terri and her jaded colleague, Val (McGuire, replacing Nadine Armstrong ).

Billy is nothing more than a pathetic creep, using his position of authority to try to get his way with the sweet-natured Terri. Lacking the needed male-hunter edge for the role, Shofner can't make us believe any of Billy's pronouncements of affection.

The sum of his character is his view, which is that of Terri as ripe prey. And as written by Baker, Billy is bland, without even the theatrical charm or style of a modern-day Don Juan or Valmont to cut against our expectations.

Val, on the other hand, suggests possibilities for another kind of play, which Baker sets up and then drops. When Terri explains to her, gal-to-gal, about Billy's ploys, and how if she reports on him that she'll risk losing the job that supports her kid and disabled husband, Val's reaction is hard and cruel: Give in to Billy, and you'll survive. This shocks Terri, but Baker doesn't develop what's really the moral heart of his play, so what he finally has Terri do fails to convince us.

What deflates the play further is relentlessly on-the-nose dialogue, which Shofner, McGuire (strong in a last-minute replacement) and Morrison cannot make fresh. Baker brings up other things that he doesn't develop--such as the hospital name, which Terri identifies with, but which the play title inexplicably misspells.

More poor choices continue in "Dolores," which begins as a mild sitcom with Denis Raychelle and Shirley Butler working up some juicy chemistry as sisters Sandra and Dolores, and strains to get serious later on. You can almost hear the laugh track as Dolores blows into Sandra's house, running scared from her abusive husband. Nothing's funny about abused wives, but Baker tries to defuse this with Sandra's exasperation with Dolores, whose life is a long line of ex-hubbies and troubles.

"Dolores" is one of those plays in which the more a character (Sandra) tells another one (Dolores) to leave, the more you're certain she never will.

Baker unconvincingly contrives to keep Dolores in Sandra's house until he can swerve his comedy into tragedy, and all of his mechanics get in the way of the simple, basic moral choice Sandra has to help her sister make. Like Val, Sandra wants to stay out of things; like Terri, Dolores calls herself "good." But like "Fadima," deep human dilemmas get lost in the shuffle.

BE THERE

"Lady of Fadima" and "Dolores," Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Nov. 15. $10. (310) 841-0794.

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