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'Dance' Displays Power of Womanhood

November 17, 2000|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY

Short and slightly stocky, with blunt features and a pronounced nose, Jessica Litwak would probably be relegated to the category of "character actress" in the casting offices of mainstream Hollywood.

In Litwak's case, that's a misnomer. Invert the phrase, call her an "actress with character," and you'd come closer to the truth. And through the sheer force of that character, she possesses a remarkable transformative power--the ability to become beautiful at will.

Observe the metamorphosis in "Victory Dance" at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center's Davidson/Valentini Theatre. In her solo show, directed by the center's producing artistic director Sue Hamilton, Litwak charts the coming of age of three adolescent "misfits": Maya, a homely Jewish girl whose political radical Russian grandmother is dying; Luna, a closeted lesbian who must make the painful progression to self-knowledge; and Grace, an aspiring African American actress whose bright future is almost destroyed by an abusive boyfriend.

Litwak's sweeping narrative is so wildly inventive it sometimes borders on the messy. Considering that the setting is San Francisco in 1976, Litwak superimposes too many exotic dialects on the piece, particularly Luna's Cockney accent, which seems designed more to show off Litwak's range than as an organic component of the action.

By including the biblical personage of Miriam, Moses' sister, as a supernatural emissary sent to show Maya's dying grandma the error of her ways, Litwak risks sentimentalizing the proceedings, and the belated inclusion of yet two more helpful female spirits threatens to further overbalance her feminist parable. After all, even "It's a Wonderful Life" had only one beneficent angel descending to intervene in human affairs.

Despite those inconsistencies, Litwak is a radiant--and, yes, a beautiful--stage presence, a born storyteller who knows how to walk the walk and dance the dance. A modern-day shaman, she spins a healing tale of the power and potency of womanhood.

*

* "Victory Dance," L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center's Davidson/Valentini Theatre in the Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Los Angeles. Today, Saturday, Nov. 30, Dec. 1 and 7, 8 p.m.; Dec. 10, 7 p.m. Ends Dec. 10. $15. (323) 860-7300. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

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