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Theater | THEATER REVIEW

'Stoops' raises bar to glorious height

September 23, 2005|Philip Brandes | Special to The Times

Great theater can be immensely entertaining, profoundly thought-provoking or artistically inventive; "She Stoops to Comedy" at Evidence Room manages all three at once. David Greenspan's brilliant, hilarious and impeccably performed six-actor deconstruction of a modern-day Elizabethan farce finds vitality, renewal and delight at the unlikely heart of theatrical artifice.

With classical elements of gender reversal, lust and mistaken identity wrapped in archly self-aware postmodernism, the act of writing the play figures as prominently as its performance.

While the author never appears as a character, his voice regularly intrudes through his creations as he ponders where the piece is heading, considers rewrites and movingly reflects on the ultimate value of his art. In less capable hands, self-indulgence would be a real danger. But not here. Rarely has the exploration of the creative process dovetailed so effectively with universal emotional needs and psychological truths.

Greenspan starred in the original New York production, but even he would be hard-pressed to fault performance artist John Fleck's pitch-perfect turn in the gender-bent role of Alexandra Page, a lesbian stage diva whose career and love life are foundering. That Fleck never appears in drag is only the first of many ingeniously upended expectations the play has in store.

The reason: Alex's lover, Alison (Dorie Barton), has been cast in a distant regional production of "As You Like It," and in a desperate bid to salvage their rocky relationship, Alex disguises himself as a man and follows her. When the actor playing opposite Alison drops out, Alex auditions and lands the lead role of Orlando. Alison's inevitable attraction to Alex's male alter ego begets a dizzying cycle of divided loyalties and confused sexual identities that engulfs the rest of the company.

The director (Sean Runnette) and his girlfriend/assistant (Mandy Freund) grapple with increasingly fluid personal and professional boundaries. Shannon Holt delivers a confrontation of show-stopping hilarity between her two characters: an actress who rivals Alex in melodrama, and her ex-lover, whose occupation keeps changing to suit the needs of the scene.

Coaxing heartbreaking eloquence from a list of discarded plot summaries about a failed life, a lonely middle-aged gay actor (Tony Abatemarco) parallels the ruminations of melancholy Jaques in "As You Like It."

Though engaging in its own right, the play's web of allusions adds even more resonance. It isn't essential to spot the playful reference to another Orlando (Virginia Woolf's gender-switching protagonist) or the origins of the penultimate scene's Q&A format in the interrogatory narrative technique from the Ithaca chapter in James Joyce's "Ulysses" -- but it helps. You'd have to be asleep to get no fun from director Bart DeLorenzo's inspired production, but the more smarts you bring, the better.

*

'She Stoops to Comedy'

Where: Evidence Room, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays

Ends: Oct. 23

Price: $15-$20

Contact: (213) 381-7118 or www.evidenceroom.com

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

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