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They walk in beauty, but don't envy them

November 07, 2003|F. Kathleen Foley;Rob Kendt;Philip Brandes;David C. Nichols

Revealingly attired women ponder the perks and privileges of being gorgeous in a series of autobiographical monologues at Raleigh Studios. Don't hate them because they're beautiful. Physical perfection can be a heavy burden to bear.

Don't throw rotten tomatoes just yet. The show, "Pieces of Ass," which comes to L.A. fresh from its recent New York run, has its undeniably meretricious moments. It can be strident, sophomoric and overly cutesy. However, it can also be quite sweet and moving, if you stop gritting your teeth long enough to listen.

A Raleigh studio space has been handsomely reconfigured to accommodate the production, which boasts pre-show cocktails and a bikini-topped female DJ who spins platters throughout the evening -- all part of the hip, club scene atmosphere.

The monologues have been written by the cast members based on their own experiences. Slides of famous quotes about beauty, interspersed with short films, punctuate the proceedings.

Creator-director Brian Howie's staging features a gluttonous serving of cheesecake. The actresses, most of whom sport sky-high heels and gravity defying push-up bras, range from the striking to the inarguably beautiful.

When it comes to discussing their "affliction," a few are surprisingly touching. Particularly poignant is Jana Speaker, a young woman with learning disabilities and a memory disorder who must refer to cue cards as she explains how her beauty salvaged her ravaged self-esteem.

Guest celebrity Lori Heuring ("Mulholland Drive") does a wry parody of a sexist studio executive. Also effective is Chelsey Crisp, who gives a chilling account of her experiences with a determined stalker. Rachel Hollon hilariously reprises her humiliating experience in a "Hot Legs" contest. And the luminous Aya Sumika fittingly sums up the evening in her poetic monologue about female sexuality and the universal longing for love.

-- F. Kathleen Foley


"Pieces of Ass," Raleigh Studios, 5300 Melrose Blvd., Hollywood. Mondays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Nov. 25. $40. (800) 595-4849. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

This 'Butler' does it for Orton

The measure of any production of Joe Orton is how well it moves, both through time and space. By that measure, director Sean Branney's crackling new production of "What the Butler Saw" is a winner.

If it does sound and look a bit rough around the edges -- strained diction here, a miscast actor there -- Branney's "Butler" does manage to build to a second-act crescendo of nihilistic chaos that's debilitatingly, inexplicably funny.

By the time it reaches this particular point of no return -- with people in various states of undress and intoxication slamming doors, screaming in shock and running about brandishing firearms -- the show has thoroughly won us over to its brand of mutually assured dysfunction.

Heading the cast with grimacing good humor is Matt Foyer as Dr. Prentice, the psychiatrist whose relatively innocent attempt to get into the pants of a secretarial applicant (Carolyn A. Palmer) leads to a mountingly perverse series of misunderstandings, misdiagnoses and assorted misbehavior.

Matching him in aplomb is McKerrin Kelly as his bed-hopping wife, who manages to alternate bouts of credulous surprise and knowing cynicism without losing track of her character.

Except for the beguilingly wide-eyed Palmer, the rest of the cast isn't quite up to this level. As Dr. Rance, the voice of unreason from Her Majesty's Government, Noah Wagner is a shade too grinningly conspiratorial and his accent gives him trouble. Josh Thoemke makes an acceptably deadpan hotel page and John Jabaley a sternly slow-witted copper.

Not even slow wits can stem this production's headlong momentum. Orton's world is always mad, bad and dangerous to know. Presented this vigorously, it's also a revealingly guilty pleasure.

-- Rob Kendt

"What the Butler Saw," Theatre Banshee at the Gene Bua Acting for Life Theatre, 3435 Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Dec. 7. $15. (818) 628-0688. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.


Grappling with father-son issues

For Larry Levin, the very secular narrator of Richard Krevolin's "Boychik" at NoHo's Actors Forum Theatre, career success and middle age have not brought the calm detachment he'd hoped for -- at least not where his late Orthodox Jewish father is concerned.

In this updated version (formerly titled "Yahrzeit" in its L.A. debut a decade ago), Krevolin's monologue, performed with finely tuned authenticity by Richard Kline, explores the personal and cultural dimensions of Jewish father-son conflicts.

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