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Working out their issues

October 15, 2008|F. Kathleen Foley | Special to The Times

"Girl's Room" at the El Portal is a lot like the packaging on a DVD. Lots of shiny plastic distracts from just how tiny the device inside actually is.

Not that Joni Fritz's multi-generational dramedy doesn't pack a fair share of entertainment value, beginning with its two stars, Carol Lawrence and Donna McKechnie, who originated their roles during the play's 2007 run at the Queens Theatre in the Park in New York. Lawrence and McKechnie tear into Fritz's play with crowd-pleasing aplomb, as does relative newcomer Rebecca Mae Palmer, who holds her own against the more established stars. It's just that Fritz fails to say anything new in her female-centric tale, which pits three generations of women against each other in a nightlong chat-fest that, of course, reveals various secrets, both comical and dire.

The action takes place in the childhood bedroom of Kate Silver (Palmer), a dancer who had been poised to debut in a new ballet written especially for her. This would have been Kate's opening night, but a devastating injury has sidelined her from the stage, perhaps forever.

Flo (Lawrence), Kate's indomitable grandmother, had flown in from Chicago to attend that opening but has remained to help her daughter, Marilyn (McKechnie), tend to the ailing Kate. But Kate isn't the only one in pain. It seems that these women are locked in a daisy chain of mother-daughter pathology that will be divulged -- and neatly resolved -- during this alternately cozy and fractious "slumber party."

And what better place for the feminine festivities than Kate's frilly pink, hyper-girly bedroom (Beowulf Boritt's original scenic design is nicely complemented by Jason Kantrowitz's excellent lighting). For Marilyn, herself a gifted former dancer, the room is a lovingly preserved shrine to her daughter's precocious talent. For Kate, who can't wait to get back to her life in New York City, the room is a trap, a symbol of the maternal expectations that have driven her career from the outset. As for Flo, she's a lifelong flirt, as attested by her flaming red attire and sky-high heels (courtesy of Jennifer Caprio's mildly overwrought costume design). Accustomed to dominating any gathering, Flo has seriously alienated her own daughter.

Director Lynne Taylor-Corbett keeps things lively, even throwing in a strangely interruptive dance sequence that showcases Lawrence and McKechnie's still-amazing moves but reduces the proceedings to a star vehicle.

More problematic is that these women are so indefatigably charming and well-meaning that their dissatisfaction with one another seems merely whiny.

The theatrical equivalent of an estrogen patch, "Girl's Room" infuses the audience with a steady drip of feel-good femaleness but fails to pinpoint a compelling pathology behind its characters' generalized discontent.


"Girl's Room," El Portal, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 2. $40-$60. (818) 508-4200. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

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