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'Once in Doubt': Love and Despair in the Artist's Circle

May 28, 1999|PHILIP BRANDES

Part theater, part personal exorcism, Raymond J. Barry's "Once in Doubt" at the Odyssey Theatre dissects the artistic and romantic lives of an Abstract Expressionist painter--and finds both disturbingly mired in self-absorption.

Form mirrors subject matter in this intensely avant three-character psychodrama, featuring Barry as the talkative artist who paints with blood from his cut wrists, and Kim O'Kelley-Leigh as his longtime lover, muse and nemesis.

The two wage a mutually abusive power struggle in the Minimalist confines of an all-white studio (the entrance is flanked by paint cans placed so that only "PAIN" is visible on the labels). When a clueless "Joe Sixpack" type (Biff Yeager) stumbles into the fray, their desperation to keep him from leaving betrays the cyclical, claustrophobic trap their relationship has become.

Under Bernard White's direction, Barry and O'Kelley-Leigh display razor-sharp precision in their delivery, from spitting out dialogue in unison to deftly timed frenetic altercations. Their lightning-fast shifts of mood and tone further exaggerate the eruptions of repressed emotions that go hand-in-hand with apprehending the world primarily through intellect--an artifice that situates the piece well outside the bounds of realism.

Heady, demanding and confrontational, the piece itself is not entirely free of the pretensions it satirizes, though it shrewdly tempers them with self-deprecating wit.

*

* "Once in Doubt," Odyssey Theatre, 2055 Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends July 4. $18.50-$22.50. (310) 477-2055 or (323) 655-TKTS. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

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