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A former TV brat confesses all

January 13, 2006|David C. Nichols

It is impossible to choose just one favorite evil child from throughout history and fiction, but still, there's something about Nellie Oleson. Even had the flaxen-haired bane of Laura Ingalls Wilder's adolescence not actually existed, her toxic hauteur, as expressed in Wilder's "Little House" books and the long-running TV series based on them, would ensure Nellie's notoriety. Moreover, Alison Arngrim, who played Nellie on the series, is eager to share the ignominy of shrew-association.

Nellie's noxious influence upon a global public frames "Confessions of a Prairie Bitch," which returns for a limited engagement at ACME Comedy Theatre. Arngrim's wickedly funny stand-up paean to her signature character is essentially a free-form account of growing up in show business. (Arngrim's parents were, respectively, Liberace's manager and the original voice of Casper the Friendly Ghost. You do the psychological math.)

It also displays Arngrim's skills at adult comedy: her outrageous take on a once-taboo profanity, her amazing Eartha Kitt impression and some martini-dry comments on the hilarious clips that drive home her camp point. Amid the dishy name-dropping, Arngrim, whose Keane-painting eyes and off-the-cuff delivery seem more suitable than ever for Ionesco, exudes grateful bemusement over her singular career.

Primarily, though, "Confessions" brings Nellie Oleson back to the irreverent faithful, sans apologies. Despite an outsized venue and some structural blips -- easily alleviated if Arngrim left the stage to get in our faces as Nellie would -- Arngrim's deadpan chops are choice. As for Nellie, she remains immortal, if not exactly beloved, except in France.

-- David C. Nichols

"Confessions of a Prairie Bitch," ACME Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A. 8:30 p.m. Fridays. Ends Jan. 27. Adult audiences. $20. (323) 525-0202. Running time: 1 hour.

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