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Experiments in marriage, storytelling

THEATER BEAT

October 06, 2006|F. Kathleen Foley, David C. Nichols

Boldly innovative if a bit unstructured, "Hotel C'est l'Amour" at the Blank Theatre's 2nd Stage consists of more than two dozen songs from various musicals, including "The Wild Party" and "Hello Again." Director Daniel Henning, who conceived the show, has taken those unrelated numbers, all by multiple Tony nominee Michael John LaChiusa, and stitched them together with a semblance of a plot that revolves around a young couple's fractious marriage from first bliss to bitter disillusionment to renewed commitment.

The setting is a high-priced hotel room, evoked with striking Minimalism in Kurtis Bedford's Japanese-inspired set design. There, a newlywed Bride (Jennifer Malenke) and Groom (Rick Cornette) are spending their wedding night. The Groom is soon distracted from his white-clad, virginal spouse by the appearance of Marie (sultry America Olivo), a black-clad siren who may be a demon or a mistress from the Groom's past or simply the physical manifestation of the Groom's ambivalence about the married state.

The hotel's hosts, gamine Mimi (Vicki Lewis) and hunky Maman (Daren A. Herbert), are also periodically incorporated into the action. Bombastic Mimi is largely a comic relief character whose novelty songs are hilarious, although we might occasionally wonder what they're doing in this particular show. Far more brooding in nature, Maman soon turns the play's romantic triangle into a quadrangle, dallying with Marie under the jealous eye of the emotionally torn Groom

"Hotel" plays a bit like "I Do! I Do!" in limbo -- but that's a good thing. Henning's faultless staging and LaChiusa's protean tunes buoy the action throughout, and though the plot occasionally splits its seams, the end result is both mysterious and formidably charming. Under the sound musical direction of Christy Crowl, the dulcet-voiced cast finesses this quirky theatrical experiment with sheer, shining professionalism.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

"Hotel C'est l'Amour," Blank Theatre's 2nd Stage, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 5. $32-$38. (323) 661-9827. www.TheBlank.com. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

Vintage and new Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury has seldom seemed more prescient than at present, and his incisive voice fuels "Ray Bradbury's Autumn People" at the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena. This capable program by author Bradbury's Pandemonium Theatre Company pairs the vintage "Pillar of Fire" and "Touched With Fire," a new work. Both have value, despite the odd bobbles in director Alan Neal Hubbs' sturdy staging.

"Pillar of Fire," written in 1948, is an allegory wrapped in a cautionary tale swaddled in a horror story. A crimson curtain parts to reveal designer John Edw. Blankenchip's excellent, Fritz Lang-flavored set as a coffin disgorges its chalk-faced occupant. Lantry (Simon Russell), previously the last dead man on Earth, has been resurrected. It is 2274, when fiction and Halloween are defunct and cremation is a conduit to immortality in a totalitarian society.

As his zombie quest for answers unfolds, Lantry goes from Lazarus to Cain with unsettling detachment, and the eerily eager Russell rides this outre role to its searing final invocation. Patrick Skelton's low-key technocrat is his polar opposite amid a competent ensemble. The futuristic decor has atmospheric assets in the costumes by Blankenchip, sound by Gary Tharp and lighting by Peter Strauss.

The gentler "Touched With Fire" concerns two retired insurance shills and their ad hoc investigation of human response to 92 degrees Fahrenheit. Michael Morrison's Southern wag and Jay Gerber's crusty codger overcome gaps in tempo with aplomb, and Dale Manolakas is a hoot as the virago they study.

However, "Touched," which fits uneasily on the Expressionistic set, would have more effect as an opening olio. Its dry "Twilight Zone" contours deflate the dark intensity of "Pillar." Still, though reversed playing order might better serve intent, devotees should flock.

-- David C. Nichols

"Ray Bradbury's Autumn People," Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 5. $20. (323) 960-4451 or www.Plays411.com/raybradbury. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Whimsy lost amid long-windedness

Based on the novel "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" by Douglas Adams (of "Hitchhiker's Guide" fame), "Dirk" at the Road Theatre gets high points for sheer weirdness, not to mention some genuinely nifty computer effects by digital scenographer Anaitte Vaccaro. However, a droningly expository adaptation by James Goss and Arvind Ethan David takes a sad toll on Adams' magical microcosm.

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