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THEATER BEAT

`Your Mind' is a welcome distraction

June 29, 2007|F. Kathleen Foley, David C. Nichols, Daryl H. Miller, Philip Brandes

In the two one-acts that make up "Out of Your Mind," the latest offering from the GuerriLA Theatre, playwright Steven Kane wobbles a fine line between the clever and the inconsequential but is steadied by a balancing charm.

The production's novel venue is a private residence in the hills off Mulholland. (GPS is highly recommended.) Wine and snacks are served before the show, and the cast mingles freely with the audience. It's a loose and mellow ambience that sets the mood for the evening, which does not so much strain the brain as entertain.

The solipsistic opener, "In the Night of the Bed," commences on a Hollywood film set, where all and sundry fawn slavishly on Molly (Kelly Ann Ford), the film's curiously abstracted star. It seems these "actors" exist only in Molly's recurring dream. When an unwelcome "extra" (David Goryl) threatens to arouse Molly -- double entendre intended -- the regular cast is understandably panicky. Pointedly nonsensical, the playlet echoes the Red King's famous dream from "Through the Looking Glass," and indeed, Kane wryly invokes Carroll in the dialogue.

The closer, "Rhinovirus," is a dystopian comedy set in "New New York," where health and happiness are required by law. Here too, Kane's literary antecedents are obvious. A chance Chekhovian sneeze -- in this context, a criminal offense -- propels the compliant, colorless Pomerantz (Jerry Weil) on the road to radicalism.

Considering that this is somebody's living room, the playing area is snug, but director Jane Lanier maximizes the space's potential, save for her bizarre decision to stage the penultimate scene of the show out of easy view of the audience. Kane ends both his tales with formulaic patness -- perhaps a holdover from his extensive experience as a television writer.

Although "Out of Your Mind" is a bit too tidy to fulfill its surrealistic potential, it will nonetheless drive you to a welcome distraction.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

"Out of Your Mind," 2806 Nichols Canyon Place, Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays, 7:30 p.m. Saturdays. July 13, 14, Aug. 3, 4, 24, 25, Sept. 14, 15, Oct. 5, 6. $27.50. (818) 972-2467. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

A Vietnam vet's search for meaning

It's been more than two decades since the Vietnam vet-fueled drama "Tracers" took off from the Odyssey Theatre to blaze across the nation's stages. In "Walk'n Thru the Fire" at the Hayworth Theatre, "Tracers" creator John DiFusco and four talented actors share the touchstones and lessons of his life with appealing brio.

Equal parts memory play and cauterizing ritual, this absorbing autobiographical piece reflects DiFusco's lifelong search for meaning. As sparely elegant as the pantheistic shrine that centers designer Sara Ryung Clement's set, "Walk'n" packs a lot into two-plus hours.

Cultural and metaphysical questions dominate DiFusco's account, which goes from his working-class childhood in 1940s Massachusetts, to Vietnam, then California and back. The potency that DiFusco displays with actors Richard Azurdia, Michael T. Kachingwe, Kwana Martinez and Eileen O'Connell, who form a virtual DiFusco Family Story Theatre, is easily worth admission.

Under the smooth direction of Che'Rae Adams and Janet Roston, "Walk'n" dives into issues that DiFusco has grappled with for a lifetime. From the Vietnam service that spurred "Tracers" to the sense of mortality raised by the deaths of five siblings, DiFusco relates his unblinking view of what he's learned with passion, grace and humor.

The production is clearly a labor of love, with glossy contributions by J. Kent Inasy (lighting) and Cricket S. Myers (sound), and it carries an engaging authority that trumps some self-indulgent patches. DiFusco's onstage colleagues are excellent, yet the interjected business occasionally interrupts rather than enhances the narrative flow. Nor is every detail necessary, which results in over-length. Still, it's DiFusco's tale to tell, and he does so with unimpaired ability. It's good to have him back on the boards where he belongs.

-- David C. Nichols

"Walk'n Thru the Fire," Hayworth Theatre, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Ends July 21. $20. (800) 838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

An aging gangster tells his story

These days, he thinks of himself as a retired businessman and seems to believe he's done nothing as underhanded or exploitative as some who could more legitimately claim that description. His chief desire is to emigrate to Israel, where his grandparents are buried and, perhaps not incidentally, he'd be able to put some distance between himself and the Feds.

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