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Theater | THEATER BEAT

In 'South Pole,' workers frozen by broken spirits

October 29, 2004|Rob Kendt;Philip Brandes;David C. Nichols;Daryl H. Miller

As designer Bob Blackburn's sound moves from feminist classics to ocean noises, we hear a fishing reel. Sandy Lee's lights reveal protagonist Lil (the understated Nicole Marcks), upon whom "Bluefish" turns. Newly separated homemaker Eva (Libby West, excellent), who is clueless about the cove's proclivities, intrudes on Lil's reverie. Their unspoken attraction temporarily halts with the arrival of Lil's longtime summer companions, who surpass archetype through the Chekhovian care with which Chambers draws them.

There is Lil's college roommate Annie (an invested Laura Philbin Coyle), co-parenting the children of divorced partner Rae (Leslie Upson, fine). Wealthy Sue (the apt Cathy Ladman) and opportunist Donna (CB Spencer, very funny) have a dysfunctional relationship that overrides gender issues. Only cultural changes dim the effect of closeted celebrity Kitty (Peggy Goss, channeling Catherine O'Hara) and her "secretary" Rita (Cerris Morgan-Moyer, ideal).

Sue Hamilton's intimate staging weathers minor quirks to achieve delicate tragicomic results. Barring the noticeably bare interior of Victoria Profitt's otherwise impeccable set, the designs are evocative. Though slow to build, Marcks reaches touching depths, exhibiting real chemistry with West's tremulous novice. Goss' grandiosity and Coyle's reserve form the poles of a well-chosen company, which recommends this effective anniversary revisit.

-- David C. Nichols

"Last Summer at Bluefish Cove," Davidson/Valentini Theatre, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, the Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. No shows Thanksgiving weekend. Ends Dec. 5. $20 and $25. (323) 860-7300. Running time: 2 hours.

*

The 'Big Picture'? Maybe too big

Execution battles intent in "Scenes From the Big Picture," which launches Furious Theatre Company's first season in the Balcony Theatre Upstairs at the Pasadena Playhouse. Owen McCafferty's acclaimed study of 24 hours in modern Belfast receives a worthwhile yet frustrating U.S. premiere.

At its 2003 National Theatre debut, "Big Picture" enraptured the London critics, who drew comparisons ranging from Dylan Thomas to Robert Altman. Playwright McCafferty takes a camera obscura look at assorted residents of a city (and country) whose wounds from centuries of conflict may never heal.

Their intersecting plotlines, written in a notable seriocomic voice, emerge, disappear, develop and return with gyroscopic logic and microscopic realism. A tobacco shop, a slaughterhouse office, a drug dealer's digs and a raucous pub are among the key locales.

Director Damaso Rodriguez oversees an imposing 21-member ensemble, many doubling as designers and technicians, who all manage the ultra-choreographed scene changes (barring awkward act endings). They are literally tireless, giving detailed portrayals with plausible accents across the board. Designs are lean but proficient, especially Christie Wright's lighting and the sound plot by Eric Pargac and Vonessa Martin.

Yet the technically impressive, hyper-kinetic staging dominates to distraction, blurring the accrued overview. At the reviewed performance, I found myself too often worried about tripping the performers traveling the aisle rather than getting lost in their stories, which seems McCafferty's point. Irish theater aficionados and Furious supporters should check it out, but, regrettably, this honorable effort is inconclusive, a series of display turns struggling for unification.

-- D.C.N.

"Scenes From the Big Picture," Balcony Theatre Upstairs at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 21. $15 and $24. (626) 356-PLAY or www.furious theatre.org. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

*

The 'Architect' of a shaky life

A house of cards made of tabletop sugar packets: It's what one character in "The Architect of Destiny" is building when we first see her, and it's what Michael Gianakos' funny, featherweight psychiatric comedy of errors amounts to under Mark L. Taylor's breezy direction.

A sour note or a lull in the screwball pacing would topple the play's delicately jokey momentum, but Taylor and his matter-of-factly quirky cast don't drop a beat.

At the quivering helm of the proceedings is twentysomething Mark (Simon Helberg), a frustrated, unemployed nebbish who evokes Jerry Seinfeld's unhinged id. Angst-in-his-pants Mark seeks help but gets only silky-toned abuse from a dapper Freudian shrink (Nick Ullett).

This doctor clearly has a problem with boundaries. Not only does he invite Mark's pharmaceutically addled parents (Aaron Lustig, Becky Bonar) into the room, he and the folks intrude on Mark's first date with a nut job (Cori Clark Nelson).

This gathering of loonies later descends on the scene of Mark's attempted suicide, where a suave sharpie in a sharkskin jacket (Anthony Cistaro) has just rejected this attempt at escape. He hands Mark a card: "Death, by appointment only."

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