So far, so bleak. But "Famine Plays' " flavor comes from strong performances that locate the play's no-man's land in a recognizable emotional reality. The engaging Trevor H. Olsen, as the yuppie Fleet who loses his eyes in a skirmish, is the play's Virgil, a blind tour guide whose lacerating irony struggles to keep anguish at bay. Shell-shocked Michelle D. Hilyard, a recently bereaved mother -- her mammaries still tight with milk -- finds an unlikely mouth to feed. Meanwhile, Judith Ann Levitt and John MacKane, as long-married senior citizens, offer a sweetly desolate portrait of a matter-of-fact love that can't survive the desolation around it.
Whether you find this impressive acting exercise sustaining for 90 minutes all depends on your taste for end times. Think of "Famine Plays" as a fractured episode of "Survivor," where the immunity idol turns out to be the ability to tolerate an all-too-human awareness of our desperate animal needs.
-- Charlotte Stoudt
"Famine Plays," Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Ends Aug. 4. $18. (323) 856-8611 or www.theatreofnote.com. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.
One woman's tribal tribulations
Social consciousness suffuses "What's an Indian Woman to Do?" at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. Mark Anthony Rolo's solo play about the rift between heritage and modernity requires that a Native American actress play its multiple roles, which DeLanna Studi, a star of Cherokee origin, does with resolute skill.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 11, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
'Famine Plays': A theater review in Friday's Calendar section of "Famine Plays" at Theater of NOTE identified Michelle D. Hilyard as the actress who played the bereaved mother. The actress was Julia Prud'homme.
Focusing on Belle, born to an Ojibwe father and a white mother, Rolo's cunningly crafted monologue begins with a Halloween memory. Adolescent Belle plans to trick-or-treat as Disney's Pocahontas, only to discover that blond, blue-eyed Katrina, her "best friend," has deliberately appropriated Belle's costume.
Katrina's encroachment on Belle's territory underpins the scenario, as she smilingly steals Belle's high school sweetheart, then embraces Ojibwe culture to bed Ojibwe men. Years later, Katrina and her Ojibwe boyfriend Moose enter the cafe where Belle works. A plan for revenge unfolds.
The other story thread involves crusty Auntie Belle, who calls her namesake "City Girl" and carries the heart of Rolo's argument. By the end, City Girl achieves detente between her urban surroundings and native roots, joining a traditional dance in the blue glow of designer Ryan Hindinger's light plot.
Studi is something to see and, at times, her dutiful attack yields versatile fruit. The exchanges between Belle and Auntie have a quiet pull, and slow-on-the-uptake Moose is probably the best thing in the show.
But director Kenneth Martines allows uneven pacing and a faintly automated tone to dull Rolo's mix of the poetic and conversational, with ennui setting in midway through. Audiences sensitive to its issues may appreciate "Indian Woman," but it wavers between respectable festival specialty and earnest academic entry.
"What's an Indian Woman to Do?" Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays. Ends July 14. $20. (213) 489-3281 or www.latinotheater.com. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.