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'Hostage' pushes Alliance's limits

June 27, 2003|Daryl H. Miller;F. Kathleen Foley;David C. Nichols

Fascinating yet trying, Brendan Behan's sprawling drama "The Hostage," at the Alliance Repertory, is not for the fainthearted. "Cats" this ain't.

One of literature's more famous drunks -- and that's saying something -- Behan purportedly wrote the play in the late 1950s for a meager sum that he promptly spent on whiskey. By 1964, Behan had drunk himself to death. An obituary of the day would proclaim him "too young to die but too drunk to live."

A cross between music hall and tragedy, the play, which concerns a young British soldier taken hostage by an IRA splinter group, is drama under the influence -- a boozy, bawdy outpouring about three hours long. The squalid pub/brothel that is the setting for the piece teems with tosspots, eccentrics and whores of both genders. Characters burst into song or Gaelic at the drop of a hat, and the thick Dublin accents (admirably realized by the cast under the tutelage of dialect coach Kathleen Dunn) can make whole passages difficult to understand.

By mounting such a demanding show at the tiny Alliance, director Stephanie Shroyer shows plenty of guts. The play opens with a full-blown dance sequence that has the actors jigging and twirling in a Lilliputian playing area. Characters careen up staircases, slam doors, leap onto rickety footstools to rip off a song. Almost indescribably hectic, events play out with baffling abruptness.

The episodic quality is more intrinsic to the play than to this production. However, despite their Herculean efforts, Shroyer and company have trouble reining in Behan's untrammeled piece to fit the confines of the space. Even apart from the obvious logistical difficulties, Shroyer's staging sometimes seems forced and constrictive. Too often, stereotypical characters lack subtext. And although the show does not require Broadway-caliber voices, some of the singing wouldn't pass muster in the shower.

Still, for sheer boldness and spirit, this colorful "Hostage" gets high points. The design elements are excellent, especially Matthew C. Jacobs' battered set, and certain performances are wonderfully measured. Particularly fine are Morlan Higgins, as the seedily heroic manager of the pub, and Sarah Zinsser as Meg, his "almost" wife. If you're prepared for a lengthy immersion, you just may find this mixture intoxicating.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

"The Hostage," Alliance Repertory, 3204 W. Magnolia Ave., Burbank. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends July 27. $20. (800) 595-4849. Running time: 3 hours.

*

'Groundlings' keep honing keen edge

Ample mirth attends "Groundlings Is for Lovers" in Hollywood. Though less downright outrageous than previous offerings by the troupe, this new showcase of sketches and improvisational comedy is ribald and representative.

Under Karen Maruyama's zippy direction, "Lovers" features smart writing and notably strong improvs. Brian Palermo's sardonic reality-programming opener, "This One's for You," and the ad-libbed game show (tautly presented at the reviewed performance by Palermo, Hugh Davidson and Mitch Silpa) typify these aspects.

Themes of partnership predominate, with several keen teamings in a keening company teeming with talent. Daniele Gaither and Jordan Black are uproarious as improvised film critics from da 'hood, and Jeremy Rowley is most definitely demented opposite the deadpan Damon Jones in "The Permit." Steve Little is a nerdish foil to Ted Michaels' outlandish champion in "The Spaniard," while Steven Pierce joins Palermo, Jones and Ben Falcone as "Jawbone," a cringe-worthy Christian rock band. Both Christian Duguay's blind "Laptop" porn surfer and the infomercial sendup "Great Innovations," by Gaither and Rachel Duguay (who recalls the young Elaine May), warrant expansion.

And the ensemble mayhem fueling Falcone's mannequin-motivated Act 1 closer, "Macy's," and Palermo and Jim Cashman's fractured-Fosse "Circuit City" finale indicate that a full-scale Groundlings musical is waiting to happen.

Not every sketch lands, and the Iraqi reconstruction riff, "Interim Government," is strictly one-note. Even so, with Greg Kanaga, Larry Treadwell and music director Willie Etra providing rocking interludes, "Lovers" is an ideal date show, regardless of persuasion or medication levels.

-- David C. Nichols

"Groundlings Is for Lovers," Groundlings Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., Hollywood. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 and 10 p.m. Indefinitely. Mature audiences. $18.50. (323) 934-9700. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

*

Good intentions eclipsed in 'Luna'

Ecstasy abusers and the preternaturally cold may conceivably find comfort in "Luna," now spiraling out of control at the MET Theatre's downstairs space. Kristine Dickson's astrological epic concerning the sun's opposite number (Kelly Carmichael) orbits around itself in quest of a campy happening.

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