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Theater Review

Fractured dreams

'The Projectionist' is a poignant take on Hollywood. The star? The

March 30, 2009|CHARLES McNULTY | THEATER CRITIC

Hamish Linklater cuts a winningly dweebish figure as the overwrought title character of Michael Sargent's "The Projectionist," an eccentric pulp drama set in the early '80s in one of the shabbier second-run cinemas on Hollywood Boulevard and populated with a gallery of kooks whose dreams appear to have been not just broken but smashed to smithereens. Yet the real star here is the Kirk Douglas Theatre itself, where the play is performed in the lobby of this former movie house, whose retro concession stand and ticket booth seem made to order.

The production is part of DouglasPlus, an eclectic mix of free-ranging, short-run works that allows Center Theatre Group the opportunity to break out of institutional straitjackets. Previous offerings include two solo shows, Kirk Douglas' "Before I Forget" and Mike Daisey's "How Theater Failed America" "The Projectionist," which has performances Thursday through Saturday of this week, also plays by its own idiosyncratic rules. (Next up in the series is a staged workshop presentation of "Venice," a hip-hop riff on Shakespeare's "Othello," and I sincerely hope this refreshing extension of CTG's artistic palette will continue long into the future.)

Directed by Bart DeLorenzo, "The Projectionist" is a diverting curio that attains a unique poignancy in the smaller moments that occur between characters, those sideswipe encounters that unexpectedly capture the textures of living on the edge of sanity and security. Randy (Linklater), a film school dropout who's given up writing "crazy" screenplays, is essentially running the Art Theater's seedy operation, nervously greeting customers at the ticket window, jumping counters to serve them unbuttered (and probably stale) popcorn and then racing to change the movie reels before the few freakish filmgoers in attendance start a revolt.

Randy's daydreaming loneliness is disturbed by Kim (Brittany Slattery), a New Wave-styled waif from the neighborhood who winds up getting a job at the movie theater and dramatically boosting the concession business by bringing in ice cream and thinking surprisingly like a natural entrepreneur.

Kim is intrigued by Randy's extremes of professional competence and personal ineptitude (qualities that, it turns out, she shares). Popping pills for back pain that's as existential as it is physical, Randy has spectacularly failed to live up to expectations, yet even his boss, Ziba (Lauren Campedelli), the gun-toting, over-accessorized dragon lady whose husband is in jail, can't help but appreciate his hangdog reliability.

The world of the Art Theater is a place where the casualties of the fame game expose Hollywood's underbelly while still permitting themselves to be hypnotized by the products of its dream factories. Sargent encapsulates this motley (and vividly cast) crew in a B-movie bubble, which becomes more and more violent when Sal (Barry Del Sherman), the movie theater's drug-addicted ex-manager, and Tiffany (Tara Chocol Joyce), his ditsy, flop-of-a-starlet girlfriend, arrive on the scene demanding money from Ziba's safe. It's not clear how slapdash the cooked-up plot is supposed to be, but the snowballing events suggest Sargent is aiming more for parody than poetry.

Still, the characters of Randy and Kim are so tenderly observed that something lyrically sad about these unglamorous Hollywood denizens breaks through. As cars swoosh before our very eyes outside the Culver City theater, this young man and woman are left heartbreakingly stranded in some limbo between the illusions of the big screen and the reality of the street.

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charles.mcnulty @latimes.com

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'The Projectionist'

Where: The lobby of the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City

When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday. Ends Saturday.

Price: $20

Contact: (213) 628-2772

Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

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