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Theater Review

Life in Dark-Edged L.A. Takes a Surreal Turn in 'Fall Off Night'

April 02, 1999|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES THEATER WRITER

It's especially fitting that the Open Fist Theatre production of Allison Gregory's "Fall Off Night" is at a venue sometimes known as the Los Angeles Playhouse. For the production evokes a little piece of L.A. in miniature.

Director Sal Romeo and set designer Peter Hyde laid a big chunk of asphalt through the center of the theater. They threw in bus benches, a traffic sign, a beat-up car that moves a few feet, a chariot-like suggestion of a bus. Theatergoers line both sides of this L.A. street scene and watch a woman descend into deepest Los Angeles.

Or is it just into her own dreams?

Heidi Parker (Anastasia Martino) is an ophthalmological photographer. When she isn't taking photos of eyes, she turns away from other people. She looks forward to living alone in a new apartment, away from roommates.

On the night before her big move, though, she witnesses an incident that appears to be a mugging of a lone woman on a deserted street. She's haunted by the memory and by her own failure to do anything about what she saw.

The first part of the play effectively conjures up an unsettling, edgy atmosphere--a world in which singles are hungry for human contact yet justifiably fearful of what that might entail.

Among those who encounter Heidi are a patient who thinks she's going blind (Marnie Crosseu), a guy in a club who's alternately charming and sinister (David Castellani), and in the play's most transfixing scene, a neighborhood watch captain (William Salyers) who goes ballistic. Heidi's gruff colleague (Anastasia Basil) provides grim comic relief.

The play enters dream-sequence territory in the second act and never really emerges from it. As events become increasingly surreal, the immediacy of the play's L.A. environment loses its edge. The tension level recedes. Still, Romeo's staging, with major contributions from Clayton Tripp on lights and Rachel Andersen and Angela Backman on sound, remains intriguing.

* "Fall Off Night," Open Fist Theatre, 1625 N. La Brea Ave. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends April 10. $15. (323) 882-6912. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

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