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Theater Review: Much of Interest at "Topics" Fest

(c) Los Angeles Times

December 04, 1992

By Robert Koehler

There's a nervy ambition running through the Fountainhead Theatre's second annual "Topics of Our Time" one-night mini-festival, subtitled this year "The American Dream."

David Beckman's "Partners," as directed by Ed Johnston, jumps quickly from the sadly familiar problems of homeless men to an unexpected stand-off between a literary fellow (Scott Lawrence) who only wants to sell books for very little cash, and a new guy (Clifton Gonzalez-Gonzalez) with hot, lucrative merchandise. Beckman slashes to his predictable ending too quickly.

Jonathan Berzer's "Talk" strives to make some Freudian connections between a man's childhood mendacity and his bald attempts to cover up the truth before a congressional committee. But the most interesting connection is the one actor Steven Culp, directed by Steven Adams, makes between the man's stolid body language and eyes that cannot hide the truth.

Ron Taylor needs more space than this format permits to develop the social comedy of "The Long Drive," in which two white law firm partners (Sid Conrad and Doug Ballard) craftily woo the firm's one black member (Lawrence) with a partnership for a price. Director Adams could do more to build the pressure, but Taylor's best idea--to place the deal during a golf game as South-Central L.A. is burning--is a building block to work with.

Max Ember's "The Glass Ceiling" may be about an executive woman's (Sage Parker) downhill slide in the movie business, but the influence here is from a movie about male moguls--"The Player." Like one of Robert Altman's circuitously tracking crowd shots, Ember and director Susan Ruskin conceive of the action as a constant whirl of overlapped conversations and quick contacts where people neither hear nor touch each other. It is timed like a Swiss watch, but in hyperspeed.

This mostly bright collection goes dumb with Andrew Fickman's and John Zinman's "Mending Wall," as two white guys (Culp and Andrew Shaifer) start off as Spike Lee fans and dissolve into wimpy suburbanites (with a final, cheap knock at the Valley). Johnston directed this, as well as Leonard Dick's witty "Assistant God," which quickly recovers the night's good-hearted, satirical tone with an unlikely meeting between a son (Stanley DeSantis) and his crusty runaway father (a funny Howard Mann) who has blended the joys of Yiddish with New Age folderol.

The program's nerve reaches its zenith with Susan Miller's borrowing from "Our Town" for "It's Our Town, Too," a suitably quiet narrative of two gay and lesbian couples and the children they raise to marry each other. Calm where it could be melodramatic, dignified where it could be drippy, Miller's new American version of Thornton Wilder, directed by Adams, may have the stuff of something much bigger than what's on view now.

"Topics of Our Time--The American Dream," Fountainhead Theatre, 1110 N. Hudson Ave., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Dec. 19. $10; (213) 252-3555. Running time: 2 hours.

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