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Actors Find Clarity in Formulaic 'Roses'

July 23, 1999|PHILIP BRANDES

A quartet of women battle their demons under the strict oversight of a tough-love doctor in "Julia Cameron's Four Roses," a terribly earnest new drama about a substance abuse clinic. While the seriousness of the issue and Cameron's ability to articulate it are never in doubt, the piece plays more like a catalog of pat problems and facile solutions than a theatrical work. Much of its emotional impact is blunted in the process.

A well-cast ensemble renders the stock characters' single-note issues with commendable clarity. The celebrated actress (Maureen Mueller, sharing the role with Marie Chambers) is an alcoholic whose prima donna attitude masks a crumbling identity. A sex toy (Shannon Whirry) fears the responsibility of basing her life on more than her body. A housewife (Mary Wickliffe) stays in denial about her addiction to prescription drugs. And a self-destructive teenage junkie (Domenica Cameron-Scorsese, alternating with Shana Lane-Block) refuses to accept a sense of self-worth despite her considerable drawing talent.

Under John Newland's focused direction, these formulas fall neatly into place like dominoes. There's even a glib last-minute dyslexia diagnosis served up to explain the teenager's poor school performance.

In bloodless homage to humanistic values, all the characters remain fundamentally good. Even rivalry for the same man can't keep their bonding from its appointed rounds--all the villains (wayward spouses, emotionally unavailable parents) remain offstage abstractions.

Helping these women help themselves is a relentlessly humorless crusade by the doctor (Anne E. Curry, to be replaced by a player to be named later) and her nurse (Jackie O'Brien), each of whom has dutifully waged a personal battle with substance abuse. Not that the subject matter lacks weight, but a more skillful dramatist would know how to modulate emotional tone to engage an audience.

Self-help seminar addicts are the ideal audience for this one.

*

* "Julia Cameron's Four Roses," Century City Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Aug. 22. $20. (323) 655-TKTS. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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