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'Inside Job' firm in its core beliefs

November 14, 2003|Rob Kendt;David C. Nichols;F. Kathleen Foley

Guy Zimmerman's "The Inside Job" at least has the courage of its own presumptions. It wastes no energy arguing the points it takes as foundational truths: Soulless corporate crooks are our true rulers, the Enron scandals presage a lawless republic ruled by brute force, and Texas is evil's hell mouth.

Zimmerman simply imagines -- in the bleached, arid, often haunting manner we've come to recognize as the Padua Playwrights style -- a cool, matter-of-fact apocalypse, reflected by three of its unwitting but all-too-willing handmaidens.

Actually, one of the three knows more about what's afoot than she first lets on. Heidi (Holly Ramos), a frosted-blond urchin in black boots and tiny dress, emerges as the unlikely nexus among Max (Barry del Sherman), a disgraced but unrepentant white-collar plunderer; Victoria (Jessica Margaret Dean), his icily grasping wife; and the offstage Renner, a murderous tycoon ardently feared and admired by the others.

In a series of portentous blackout scenes punctuated by Robert Oriol's eerie sound cues (Oriol also designed the stark lighting, Jeffrey Atherton the primary-color set), Max chatteringly plots a comeback, Victoria alternates between catatonia and calculation, and Heidi knowingly manipulates both, to enigmatic ends.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday November 15, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Photo credit -- A photo accompanying a review of the play "Disappearing Act" in Friday's Calendar was mistakenly credited to Kevin Merrill. The photo was by Robert Neches.

Zimmerman's direction is sure and supple, his text tight, teasing and self-contained, and his cast strikingly in tune with his unblinkingly bleak vision.

The opening night audience seemed similarly attuned, particularly to such observations as, "Stupidity in foreign affairs is the mark of a great power; only the truly powerful can afford to be stupid," or, "These people never admit they're wrong -- they just declare victory and move on." If that's your cup of iced tea, it is served crisply here, without sweetener.

-- Rob Kendt

"The Inside Job," presented by Padua Playwrights Productions at 2100 Square Feet, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Dec. 7. $20. (323) 692-2652. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.


A 'Traviata' best viewed by fans

"The Lisbon Traviata" is a pirated recording of Maria Callas' 1958 Sao Paulo appearance in Verdi's immortal tear-jerker. This legendary performance hadn't yet seen commercial release in 1984, the era of Terrence McNally's operatic tragicomedy of gay triangulation amid the Callasians.

Ben Pablo's suave soundtrack follows McNally's specs, with a needle scratch as downbeat for the "allegro" Act 1. This trivia-heavy exchange between Callas-worshipping Mendy (David Goldyn) and fellow acolyte Stephen (Gregory G. Giles) conceals roiling passions beneath a witty, vitriolic surface.

Flamboyant, recently divorced Mendy masks his crushing loneliness and unrequited love for his crony behind diva adulation. Closeted book editor Stephen, more clear-eyed about Callas, uses placid acerbity to bury his obsession with estranged lover Michael (Tony Maietta). This erupts full-formed in the "largo" Act 2, as Stephen baits Michael's new boyfriend, Paul (the eponymous Jason), then Mike himself, with the conclusion a wholesale lift from "Carmen."

McNally knows his Founder's Circle terminology like few living playwrights, and director Michael Van Duzer approaches it with microscopic calibration. This, however, is counterproductive, though the intelligent, courageous actors represent apt casting. Giles charts Stephen's feral pathology with clinical precision, Jason's naked interloper is uninhibited and the sensitive Maietta is an eloquent find. Goldyn, less brazen than celebrated predecessor Nathan Lane, nails the pathos beneath Mendy's grandiosity.

But the beats and tempos defeat conversational realism and spontaneity, just as Lew Abrahmson's set mixes stylization and representation with indeterminate results. "Lisbon Traviata" is certainly a gay staple, witnessed by the Internet buzz engendered by this week's long-awaited London premiere. Yet it remains an ornate sudser with La Divina flourishes, recommendable to first-timers, fans of the property and EMI Classics buyers.

-- David C. Nichols

"The Lisbon Traviata," Actor's Lab, 1514 N. Gardner St., Los Angeles. Thursdays - Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Nov. 23. Mature audiences. $15-$20. (323) 769-6261. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.


Few new tricks up this 'Act's' sleeve

All entertainers are messed-up head cases running from squalid, unloving childhoods into the unquestioning embrace of the audience.

Sound familiar? Then "Disappearing Act," a flimsy evening of warmed-over magic tricks and pop psychology, has no breaking news, and scant entertainment value, to offer.

Micah Cover stars as Sonny Aquinas, a twentysomething magician whose act, or what we see of it, is engagingly new-school and conversational. He pulls off some striking feats with an empty paper bag and what look like shifting hot coals.

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