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THEATER | Theater Review

Witty Rhymes for Modern Times

The one-man show 'Versus' delightfully captures the life of Ogden Nash.

November 30, 2000|JANA J. MONJI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

That's no typo or hint of legal wrangling in the title of Peter Massey's one-man show "The Versus of Ogden Nash." It's a reference to one of Nash's poetry collections, "Versus," and Nash's playfulness with words.

In this 90-minute trifle at the new 49-seat Coronet Studio Theatre, Massey creates a loving portrait of an artistic wonder--a happy family man who made a living writing light verse.

Massey brings out Nash's whimsical humor--from switching name cards at the dinner table to be seated next to a certain young lady who would later become his wife to playfully changing or transforming words to suit his rhyme scheme. Hypothesizing that Nash's versifying inspiration was his wife, Massey spins a sweetly sentimental tale.

Nash submitted his verse to the New Yorker and was eventually hired to work on the staff. He collaborated with S.J. Perelman and Kurt Weill on a hit Broadway musical, "One Touch of Venus." He published several books of poetry and prose, and he toured the country lecturing on his works before his death in 1971.

Under Debra De Liso's direction, Massey glides easily between himself as commentator and Nash. Along with Phil Hettema's streamlined set design and Walter Tabayoyong's computer graphics, De Liso composes an air of gentle simplicity.

Nash suffered no great tragedies or scandals to raise the dramatic heat here. Instead, Massey provides delightful moments by an author who was sure his most famous poem would be his brief but witty observation, "Reflections on Ice-Breaking: Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker."

* "The Versus of Ogden Nash," Coronet Studio Theatre, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd. Fridays-Saturdays, 8:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 6 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Dark Dec. 24-25. $25. (310) 657-7377. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

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