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Utopia's not within reach for these folks

November 05, 2004|Rob Kendt;Don Shirley;David C. Nichols;F. Kathleen Foley;Lynne Heffley

In John Guare's quaintly disturbing, utterly unpredictable period drama "Lydie Breeze," characters strut and fret around a Nantucket beachfront property, circa 1895, and inflict a painful past on one another in a series of wordy, almost formal confrontations.

Suicide, syphilis and above all compromise were the downfall of the island's onetime utopian commune, of whose charter members only the widower Joshua Hickman (John Ross Clark) remains. A fellow ex-idealist, spoken of but unseen, is now a senator in the pocket of William Randolph Hearst.

Others in this failed social experiment died unnaturally, leaving confusion and recrimination as legacies to their children and other innocent bystanders: Hickman's daughters (Jane Longenecker, Tish Terrasini), their maid (Jessica Ires Morris) and the odd son (David J. Wright) of Hickman's late rival.

That such grim material proves as compelling, even entertaining, as it does in the play's West Coast premiere at the Open Fist Theatre is a tribute to Guare's nervy narrative virtuosity. Under Dietrich Smith's stark, unblinking direction, the play comes off like an unholy marriage of O'Neill and Albee -- a thick New England chowder of determinism and dysfunction.

The women dominate the evening, though in a disconnected way: The brusquely citified Terrasini, the blankly haunted Ires Morris and the mercurial scamp Longenecker each seem to be from a different play.

The men could be from other planets: Ross Clark, who gives a sly, wizened performance despite seeming young for the part; the stiffly gothic Wright; the letter-perfect James Brandon, as a boyish neighbor; and Babbitt-y Jonathan Winn, in an eleventh-hour walk-on that epitomizes Guare's perverse yet often persuasive playmaking.

-- Rob Kendt

"Lydie Breeze," the Open Fist Theatre, 1625 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 4. $18, Sundays pay what you can. (323) 882-6912. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.


A sprawling look at '80s Philippines

What a difference a rewrite makes. "Dogeaters," a panorama of the turbulent Marcos-era Philippines in the early '80s, was a mess at La Jolla Playhouse in 1998, when Jessica Hagedorn adapted it from her novel.

Hagedorn then dumped the play's awkward flashbacks to 1959. The result is a much more coherent portrait of a society approaching a nervous breakdown.

The L.A. premiere is at the intimate, arena-style SIPA Performance Space at the Temple Gateway Youth & Community Center in Filipinotown.

The script still covers too much, but at least it moves faster than the soap operas it sometimes spoofs. Near the end, the narration abruptly switches from a glitzy showbiz couple (Gil Bernardi, Liza Del Mundo) to a Filipina (Elizabeth Pan) who now lives in the U.S. but has returned home for a visit. She's a remnant of a more developed character in the original version, but her connection to the play's events is too tenuous.

Still, many scenes strike sparks. Most of the 22 actors play more than one role. The pivotal characters, a beauty queen turned rebel (Esperanza Catubig) and a junkie (Rodney To) who witnesses an assassination, are in good hands. Ivan Davila plays a vivacious drag queen, Gino Aquino polar-opposite young men, Dana Lee a creepy pimp, Natsuko Ohama a steely Imelda Marcos, Dom Magwili a brutal general and Christine Avila his fervidly religious, troubled wife.

Director Jon Lawrence Rivera uses the entire room and maintains clarity throughout.

-- Don Shirley

"Dogeaters," SIPA Performance Space, 3200 Temple St., L.A. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. $20. (213) 382-1819. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.


Her dream gets the death penalty

Kay, a pro-death penalty lieutenant governor, plans to announce her candidacy for the top slot. Kay invites the attorney general and a New Age guru to an intimate cocktail party to test-run her run. Vexing her vetting are obstacles like America, her ex-hippie neighbor. More annoying is Kay's super-paranoid husband, Pat, who with fellow activist Pentil has accidentally killed Kay's boss while pleading for convicted killer Billy the Goat. They have stashed the gubernatorial corpse under the Murphy bed in the living room.

This death by accidental dissidence opens "Capital," which winds up its Gem Theatre run in Garden Grove on Saturday. Things get nuttier once the escaped Goat arrives. David Hogan's comedy about the ironic illogic of killing people who kill people suggests "Saturday Night Live" sketches on steroids.

Hogan has intelligent intent and talent with the quips, but he leapfrogs over satire directly into sitcom, everyone speaking in one-liners when not shouting in symbols. That a high-ranking politico has a Murphy bed in her apartment living room and a goldfish that expands on painkillers gives you a clue to "Capital's" dinner theater reality.

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