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Skewed miracles, divine meetings

November 15, 2002|David C. Nichols;F. Kathleen Foley;Daryl H. Miller

Norman Lear meets Norman Vincent Peale in "Acts of God" at Actors Workout Studio in North Hollywood. Writer-director Peter Fox's triad of plays links the battle between art and commerce to existential theological questions, with sidesplitting results.

First is "God Knows," in which pregnant Ruth (Jessica Randle) and fiance Joe (understudy Dave Dettore) seek counsel from Father Mike (Brennan Byers). After God (Cary Thompson) appears to Ruth, the ensuing debate sets forth the evening's skewed course in miracles.

The centerpiece, "God's Nose," finds "God Knows" author Peter Reynard (Greg Forshay, subbing for Joel Stoffer) and television producer Sid Markowitz (Bob Neches) at an upscale eatery. Their negotiations lead to another divine encounter, embodied by a waitress (Minda Burr).

The finale, "God Noes," depicts Sid's pasteboard sitcom pilot. By its conclusion, everyone from cast (Bridget Nelson, Matt Corboy, David Keats and Tim Starks) to audience (understudy Gus Buktenica) is demanding better representation, especially the Deity.

Fox has a bright central concept, and his staging is adept. The actors are hilarious, with the howl-inducing Neches stealing the show.

The satiric reach is limited by excessive polemic and disproportionate focus, plus an unnecessary intermission. Nevertheless, the witty irreverence on tap recommends "Acts of God" to agnostics and AFTRA members alike.

-- David C. Nichols

"Acts of God," Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Dec. 14. $15. (818) 506-3903. Mature audiences. Running time: 70 minutes.

*

In this version, it's all about Ophelia

Prominent theatrical iconoclast Steven Berkoff leaves no cliche unturned in "The Secret Love Life of Ophelia," an uncharacteristically prosaic offering receiving its U.S. premiere at the Odyssey Theatre.

Berkoff's two-person epistolary play, directed by Barry Phillips based on Berkoff's original staging, examines "secret correspondence" between Hamlet and Ophelia.

In "Hamlet," Ophelia, who has been painfully spurned by Hamlet, returns Hamlet's letters upon orders of her father, Polonius. In Berkoff's revisionist take, Ophelia and Hamlet feign their estrangement to gull their elders. (Why they feel this is necessary, when there is no obvious impediment to their union, remains obscure.)

Berkoff's version takes on a certain resonance in the second act, when Hamlet's murder of Polonius and his subsequent exile launch Ophelia on a dark path to obsessive guilt and madness. Unfortunately, the one-note first act, a dramatization of the lovers' erotic correspondence, is a soft-core diatribe that soon wears parchment thin.

In Berkoff's priapic profusion, Hamlet (Dominic Comperatore) gushes on and on about quills and inkpots, quivers and bows, furrows and plows, while Ophelia (Ingrid Nelson) sighs and heaves in rapturous response.

Perhaps all this grunt-and-grope verbiage is meant to be amusing, but the production's overall tone gives little clue to Berkoff's intent. Considering the eventual segue into tragedy, the steamy silliness seems misplaced. Prepossessing and passionate, Comperatore and Nelson excel in the play's second half, and they handle the preposterousness of their initial scenes with the necessary brio.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

"The Secret Love Life of Ophelia," Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Nov. 24 and Dec. 15 only, 2 p.m. No performances Nov. 27 and 28. Ends Dec. 22. $20.50-$25. (310) 477-2055. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

*

Gleeful send-up on growing old

"I'm somehow aging much faster than everyone else .... It's only a matter of time before I'm the oldest man in show business."

So laments Steve Rudnick in "The Oldest Man in Show Business," Rudnick's two-person play, now in its world-premiere engagement at the Hudson Backstage. Fifty and "tired of lying about it," veteran screenwriter Rudnick (co-writer on "The Santa Clause" and "The Santa Clause 2") gleefully bites the development deal that feeds him in his vaguely autobiographical send-up. Although it may not qualify as deathless art, Rudnick's bright, slight comedy makes serious points about Hollywood ageism and the misappropriation of the creative process by rank novices and bean counters.

Under the skillful direction of John Riggi, Rudnick stars as a battered survivor of the Hollywood trenches forced to "pitch" to young studio executive Jason (fresh-faced, funny Brian Dietzen), a rankly ignorant puppy whose cultural literacy stretches back about as far as the Smurfs. In an amusing turnabout, the action frequently switches back to the heyday of the Hollywood studio system, with Rudnick holding court as tough uber-mogul Shmule Mordechai. Shmule rules his movie-making roost with an iron hand, while such nervous underlings as Nelson (Dietzen), a young contract writer, scurry to execute his every capricious command.

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