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Girls Interrupted in 1-Woman Show

Denise Moses' performance shows energy and potential but suffers in the writing.


The original title of Denise Moses' one-woman show at the Gem Theater in Garden Grove was "Girly Show," a marquee eye-catcher to tweak the most conservative of Orange County theatergoers. Then it was changed to "Girly Show and Tell." An exotic dancer's confessions? The final title has become "Girly Americana," which unfortunately sounds like the name of a fancy Caribbean hotel with a knockout floor show.

None of them really describes Moses' evening of solo sketches.

This is not the usual one-woman show of today, autobiographical and self-serving. Moses has scripted an evening of character sketches which are both intriguing and overly outlandish.

The ideas are clever, even if some of them are derivative, and Moses has a bright and infectious comic style. The problem with most of the female snapshots is that a good idea stays too long. She needs a writer to sharpen the wit and fulfill the promise of her ideas. The sketches are cute but never rise above that.

From her sleazy country singer Miss Suzette Nubb, who's holding a benefit for her erstwhile partner who is recovering from a rodeo clown accident, to her equally sleazy competitor in a "cutie" contest, the ideas ignite but soon fizzle like Fourth of July sparklers. Kevin Cochran's crisp direction helps, but even so the writing pales before Moses' characters do.

There are some big laughs and smart lines along the way. Miss Donita's kindergarten class is informed whenever Miss Donita and her hand puppet notice a perverted action among her students that "I have a nephew just like that."

A Misstep Along Information Highway

Moses' Internet dating service applicant Beverly, in her desperation over her biological clock, is looking for a guy who's gay and in need of a green card. Beverly also claims to be a possible member of Mensa, but she misspelled Mensa on the envelope, and her application came right back. Funny stuff, but tips of a massive iceberg underneath that is repetitious and drains much of Moses' infectious energy.

Her characters exhibit her versatility, which is the sign of a professional actor, and the detail her performances are built on are excellent. Her dotty old Southern woman, Aunt Marie, is touching and could be very funny. In this snapshot, Moses' characterization is on the button, including her description of her favorite picture, "The Last Supper," painted with spangles, and with iridescent macaroni around the frame, is priceless. But the moment never gets beyond that.

Her Madame, an actress teaching a class, is a dated image that wasn't even valid in its day, and her minister's wife who says her husband has been abducted by aliens again, when as usual he's taken the Sunday till and wound up claiming amnesia in a motel, could be brilliant if Moses had found the sharp edge to make the wife squirm. She didn't.

Moses' finale, the contestant in the cutie pageant, could be a real finale, but Moses goofs by taking too long to get to the big moment, when, after a bad cheerleader reading of Lady Macbeth, she ends with a kick-split. A writer would have gotten the laugh for Moses quicker and without so much effort.

* "Girly Americana," Gem Theatre, Grove Theatre Center, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 6 p.m. Ends May 14. $18.50-$22.50. (714) 741-9555. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

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