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'Kill Switch' Drowns in Overwrought Plot

March 30, 2001|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY

Afragmented cautionary tale, Christopher Joyce's "Kill Switch" at the Ventura Court attempts to show the grit under the glitz of Hollywood. Unfortunately, instead of affording a peek into Wilson Mizner's fabled sewer, Joyce's glass-bottomed boat only skims a muddy pond.

It's a thankless tour, overlong and circuitous. Jared (Christopher Hoffman), a wannabe Hollywood screenwriter, signs an option with producer Melissa (Julia Fowler), a stripper-temptress of near-satanic malignity who uses her legal know-how to exploit Jared mercilessly. Because of Melissa's narcissistic attempts to attach herself to the project as an actress, Jared's big deal falls through.

Big deal.

Melissa's machinations ultimately drive her victim over the brink into violence--a short jaunt for Jared. As if conscious that Jared's preoccupation with his one failed film project is unattractively monomaniacal, Joyce trumps up a bizarre subplot--a horrifying secret from Jared's past that caused his drawling Irish mum (Betty Vaughan) to covertly despise him. That secret supposedly explains why the present-day Jared is such a perilously loose cannon, despite the wheedling efforts of his loyal wife (Anne Marie Howard) to deter him from his hellbent course.

The action opens with Melissa in mid-striptease--an appropriately steamy hook for this show-business saga. But Joyce, who also directs, can't make up his mind whether he wants to be Paddy Chayefsky or James M. Cain as he falters frustratingly between astringent satire and hissing potboiler. At play's end, when Joyce segues into the surreal, he dangerously overburdens his story, not to mention his performers, sad victims of Joyce's fatal lack of synthesis.

*

"Kill Switch," Ventura Court Theatre, 12417 Ventura Court, Studio City. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends April 14. $15. (818) 216-8387. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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