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Theater review: "Six Characters Looking for an Author" and "I Am Chrissie"

June 27, 2012|By Charlotte Stoudt

They’re looking for a few good denouements. The Promenade Players Theater Company’s “Six Characters Looking for an Author” and Katselas Theatre Company’s solo show “I Am Chrissie” both spark from the same premise: Those who don’t stage their history are condemned to repeat it.

“Six Characters” is a new version of Luigi Pirandello’s one-act by David Harrower. In this surreal skit, a tedious theater rehearsal takes an unexpected turn when an agitated family enters and announces its members are characters from an unfinished play.

Like guests on “Dr. Phil,” they’re trapped in limbo unless they resolve their emotional arcs. But when the professional actors perform their take on the family’s story, the fictional characters balk. They give line readings, costume notes. Everybody wants to direct.

The talented Harrower, author of the riveting two-hander “Blackbird,” makes minor tweaks to the original text but doesn’t really explore the potential of Pirandello’s experimental skit.

Director Douglas Matranga’s awkward production could have used notes from the eponymous bipolar muse of “I Am Chrissie,” written and performed by Laurie O’Brien. This intense solo show about O’Brien’s theater work with the mentally ill during the 1970s feels unfinished, but its passion compels. “Chrissie” is a séance of sorts, calling forth a lost spirit that deserves to rest in peace.

The quicksilver O’Brien portrays both her younger, more tentative self as well as the fierce, manic Chrissie: a homeless woman who seethes with the bewildered rage of someone whose life has vanished before her eyes. The last thing she needs is more drama.

The show works best when O’Brien leans into her uneasy connection with Chrissie, who deems acting to be “lying to yourself, about yourself, which is the worst.” O’Brien, trapped in a bad marriage, comes to realize that her patient is not only talking about theater.

O’Brien eventually left Denver for L.A. and landed the title role in “Mary Barnes” at the Odyssey Theatre; that award-winning production — in which she played a schizophrenic — launched her professional career. The cast of “Six Characters” is mostly newbies. Only time, and a lot of scene work, will decide their stage fate.

“Six Characters Looking for an Author” The Promenade Playhouse, 1404 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Ends July 21. $20. Contact: 310-656-6070 or www.plays411.com/diningroom Running time: 75 minutes.

“I Am Chrissie” Skylight/Skylab Theatre, 1816 ½ North Vermont Avenue, Los Feliz. 7 p.m. Sundays and Mondays. Ends July 30. $20-$25. Contact: 702-582-8587 or www.ktctickets.com Running time: 75 minutes.

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