Bittersweet Symphony

Seen any good Holocaust plays lately?

Focusing on technical elements is generally the last thing I want to do in a review-or in real life. But when they impede a play's ideas and emotions, what other choice is there? We should feel Old Wicked Songs deeply and keenly. The production on this night satisfied on neither technical nor emotional counts. By the time it ended, it felt like one thing: Wickedly Long Songs.

Old Wicked Songs at Laguna Playhouse's Moulton Theatre, 606 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-ARTS. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. Through Jan. 31. $31-$38.

New Theater Review

FIRST NIGHT

Danny (Jay Michael Fraley) is a lonely video-store clerk pining for a woman he had a preteen crush on. The object of that affection, Meredith O'Connor (Della Lisi), walks into his store on New Year's Eve intending to seduce him. Seems she's had a similar preoccupation, one so intense she's left her vocation as a nun working with the poor (!) to get into his pants. They barely know each other and haven't seen each other since grade school. But in a manner reminiscent of people afflicted with a psychological disorder called "erotomania," they have developed complex sexual and emotional fantasies about each other. That this emotionally stunted couple's fantasies have no grounding in reality is kind of creepy, frankly, with ugly images of "stalking" coloring the experience of an otherwise decent production.

If you can get past the script's Catholic schoolboy/wank fantasy aspects-an attractive nun begging to be deflowered-the play can have its enjoyable, fluffy moments. Gregory Cohen's frenetic direction and his staging choices do little to make the disturbing elements of the subject more palatable, but he's cast the show well, and his trademark talent for eliciting strong performances is neatly on display. Fraley's numerous audience asides are absolutely charming, and Lisi's chemistry with him is effective. But poor Lisi; the subtextual unpleasantness of the script just keeps working against her: Meredith is so hard to love. Her moody sexual aggressiveness isn't cute, and you can't help but think it isn't Danny she needs but a straitjacket and a strong sedative.

Another plus: Linda Garen Smith's video-store set. Featuring a Triple-X section, Pepsi machine and walls plastered with current video release posters, it's a stunner, kicking the community-theater production values up several notches. (Dave Barton) Huntington Beach Playhouse, 7111 Talbert Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 375-0696. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Through January 31. $10-$13.

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