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PERFORMING ARTS

Fools don't fear to tread on the worst screenplays

December 06, 2007|Mindy Farabee

Rest assured, says "Magnum Opus" director Joe Jordan, "no puppy dogs were hurt in the making of this show."

Like everything in "Magnum Opus," that's meant to be taken literally.

"Opus" began as part of the Sacred Fools Theater Company's "Serial Killers" -- a long-running late-night show where serialized short plays competed with each other for audience favor and the right to return the next week for another installment. "Opus" presented itself as a mock "Masterpiece Theater" -- complete with theater-snob host Thurston Eberhard Hillsboro-Smythe (portrayed by actor Brandon Clark) -- and featured scrupulously faithful renditions of terribly written (hello, slush pile) screenplays, including live "dissolves," real-time montages and a handful of canine peepers (as in, "gives puppy dog eyes").

Something about the sincerely performed drivel struck a chord and "Opus" became "Serial Killers' " most popular act, racking up an unprecedented 36 episodes before finally succumbing to audiences' fickle tastes.

But now "Opus" is back, if only for a weekend. The special engagement centers on two works -- the romantic "comedy" with dead people, "Starcrossed Love," and "Alison's Decision," which the Fools will only describe as "Sex and the City" plus weirdness.

"The comedy comes from taking these works and putting them in a theatrical context, out of translating them from screenplay to stage," Jordan says. "And that some of this stuff is so terrible, it's hilarious to hear it spoken out loud." Should one wonder how all this sounds to the authors of these works themselves, one will just have to continue wondering. "We're taking the tack that we're adapting it for the stage," Jordan explains. "It's not a strict interpretation. We haven't been in contact with the writers."

"I'm not sure they live in this country. Or speak English," Clark deadpans.

Although this lack of facility with the mother tongue can boost the humor (not even spelling errors have been corrected; "We just go with whatever the word turns into," Jordan says), people shouldn't look at "Magnum Opus" as a mere trifle, say the Fools.

"If it were just a joke, the audience would get over it," Clark says. "It's theater of the absurd, and it takes highly skilled actors. We're performing it as if it's Chekhov. The language of the production that Jordan has created is so specific and concise, it's almost a new style of acting. It could be taught, though I'm not sure who'd want to learn it."

There's also been the occasion when the Fools have forged a connection with these characters, momentarily elevating their stories.

"There's a show in there among all the silliness," Jordan says, before clarifying: "But it's mostly silliness."

-- Mindy.Farabee @latimes.com

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MAGNUM OPUS

WHERE: Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope, Hollywood

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m. Sun.

PRICE: $10 online, $15 at the door

INFO: (310) 281-8337; www.sacredfools.org

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