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The sound of one woman ranting

THEATER BEAT

October 07, 2005|F. Kathleen Foley; Lynne Heffley

Lithe and long-limbed, with dark, cascading hair, Sandra Tsing Loh opens "Mother on Fire," her new one-woman show at the 24th Street Theatre, with an odd, loping, lunatic dance.

It's one of the calmer moments in a frenetic evening. Laid back, Loh is not. She's the human equivalent of a Tex Avery cartoon character as drawn by Edvard Munch.

An established solo artist and social commentator, Loh caused a flurry last year when she was booted off the radio waves. Her celebrated gaffe -- a chance obscenity that slipped past a studio technician -- garnered Loh the most national coverage of her career.

That incident is briefly referenced in her current show, as Loh riffs amusingly on the knee-jerk nature of the journalistic establishment. For the most part, though, "Fire" is far more microcosmic in theme. In fact, the bulk of the evening concerns Loh's exhaustive attempts to find a suitable kindergarten for her oldest daughter.

As evidenced by her bestselling satire "A Year in Van Nuys," Loh's stock-in-trade has typically been to parody the obnoxiously petty concerns of the average yuppie. This show is no exception.

Clearly, a bracing sarcasm underscores Loh's mounting desperation as she scours Los Angeles for a viable school system.

Unfortunately, Loh's material doesn't always measure up to her boisterous performance. Initially, her observations seem pedestrian and strained, not far above what one would hear in a suburban kaffeeklatsch.

Still, cavorting on Jerry Buszek's amusing set under the direction of David Schweizer, with Bart DeLorenzo, Loh persists in her maternal diatribe with no holds barred. Pointed, intense and unflagging, she nimbly traverses her show's initial precariousness and hits her stride. A distinctive voice, Loh parlays the minutiae of her urban experience into big laughs.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

"Mother on Fire," 24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 6. $25. (800) 838-3006. www.24thstreet.org. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

'Kindergarten'

is in session

Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people. Don't take things that aren't yours. Flush.

Words of wisdom for adults to live by from the "Kindergarten Credo" in Robert Fulghum's 16-year-old bestseller, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten."

Judging from audience murmurs and surreptitious sniffs that recently punctuated the staging of the book at the Crossley Terrace Theatre, the former Unitarian minister's homespun homilies still strike a deep chord.

Indeed, a whiff of motivational seminar is a bit too evident in this Actors Co-op production, fueled by Ernest Zulia's sketch-style adaptation and David Caldwell's barely serviceable songs and music. Still, director (and musical director) Linda Kerns doesn't allow sound-bite sermonizing to overwhelm her staging entirely, nor does her likable cast of five: Michelle Allsopp, Brenda Ballard, Jim Custer, Kelley Hinman and Josh Olson.

If Allsopp's tearful response to Fulghum's moral extrapolations threatens to capsize her performance on occasion, Olson finds unexpected depth as a young man dispelling the blues with Beethoven's Ninth, and deftly ditsy Ballard sparks welcome laughter.

Quick-stepping through the play's dramatic and comedic shifts, trading narratives and turning into various young and old characters, the actors grab their moments, helped by Bill Kickbush's mood-complementary lighting and Gary Reed's peaceful park set.

Inspired theater? Not so much. Think feel-good ticket, and this company delivers.

-- Lynne Heffley

"All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten," Actors Co-op, Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays; ends Nov. 13. $23. (323) 462-8460. www.actorsco-op.org. Running time: 2 hours.

Discordant 'Preludes'

Worldly wise moppet Celia -- anagram for Alice -- has been forced out of her ideal looking-glass existence into the miserable "real" world. Sad, wise and ageless, she pines for her lost life during a one-night stand with a far older lover.

Curiouser and curiouser. That's an apt way to describe "Preludes & Fugues," John Glore's world-premiere play at Son of Semele in Silver Lake.

A series of oddly disjointed scenes, "Preludes" will leave many in the audience scratching their heads as they grasp for the elusive thread of plot. And many may give up in sheer exasperation. The patient playgoer, though, may find much that is rewarding in Glore's challenging meditation on loss, licentiousness and music.

The action commences on an empty stage. As composer Ryan Poulson's intricate music swells, lights play in staccato counterpoint over the movable flats of Barbara Kallir's simple set.

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