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THEATER REVIEW

The barracudas backstage

As 'Don't Talk to the Actors' peers into the theater's creative process, laughs prove hard to locate.

September 16, 2008|Daryl H. Miller | Times Staff Writer

Today on Sardi's menu: one playwright, raw, about to be eaten for lunch by a pair of spotlight-hogging stars.

"Don't Talk to the Actors" contains these and other key elements of that uproarious tradition, the backstage comedy. It takes the audience inside the creative process to witness how shows really get made, by a collection of innocents, barracudas and incorrigible showoffs. But the occasional giggle notwithstanding, hilarity is a no-show in the West Coast premiere of Tom Dudzick's comedy at the Laguna Playhouse -- even though the playhouse has assembled a first-rate cast, a proven director and the usual impressive resources.

The play's author is best known for his widely staged "Over the Tavern" trilogy, about a Polish American Catholic family in Buffalo, N.Y.

Buffalo, Dudzick's hometown, is invoked here too. Playwright Jerry Przpezniak (Chris L. McKenna) and his fiancee, Arlene (Emily Eiden), have just arrived in Manhattan from there, having relocated to the big city for Jerry's first shot at Broadway. Wide-eyed and breathless, they enter a rehearsal room -- appropriately unprepossessing, as designed by Bruce Goodrich -- where magic is supposed to happen.

All too soon, their excitement is punctured by a persnickety stage manager (Denise Moses) and then by a director (Joel Polis) who, despite his easygoing manner, begins to utter ominous phrases, including the advice proffered in the title.

After a rather arduous setup, those actors finally are introduced: the alarmingly extroverted, entirely full-of-himself Curt (Steve Vinovich) and the inveterate jokester Beatrice (Eileen T'Kaye), once costars on a popular TV show.

Director Rick Sparks finds some nice moments, as when Jerry and Arlene huddle together against Curt's first storm of negativity, disguised as helpful advice, while Jerry cradles his script like a vulnerable newborn. Yet this production stubbornly refuses to come alive. Perhaps Sparks simply failed to capture the right tone, but more essentially the cause appears to be -- well, I almost hate to mention it because it's such a cliche, not to mention the innocent focus of blame in the play itself. Still, it must be said: The script isn't all that it could be. It's not madcap, and it can't be passed off as a character study -- its dramatis personae are simply too one-note.

Still, Dudzick gets one thing quite right when his director character declares: "That's what I love about this business. Nobody's got the answers. We just do our job as best we can, then forget about it. 'Cause in the end it's all up to the audience anyway."

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daryl.miller@latimes.com

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"Don't Talk to the Actors," Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road. 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; call for exceptions. Ends Oct. 12. $30 to $65. (949) 497-2787 or www.lagunaplayhouse.com. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.

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