“Hollywood Shorts” Reviewed by Dan Berkowitz

One of the little-known joys of living in Los Angeles is finding out that a lot of movie and TV people – writers, actors, directors – also love to work in the theatre: the proximity of a live audience, laughing or crying at the moment, can be intoxicating. Sometimes you find yourself lucky enough to see and hear well-known actors read plays in intimate settings: I remember being one of only 5 people invited to hear Renee Taylor, Joe Bologna, and Paul Sorvino read a new play in a conference room, and I was part of a (slightly) larger crowd when Fred Willard did a new piece in a writer’s living room.

Though the names may not be as big, a lot of the faces are recognizable – and the writers and directors behind them have credits up the wazoo – in Hollywood Shorts, a program of 8 short pieces, playing Monday nights through November 23 at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks. It’s definitely worth a visit.

There’s a lot going on here: eight writers, four directors, and a cast of 20 – how do they all even fit backstage at this tiny theatre?!? And the plays address a wide range of topics including Las Vegas hookers, gay marriage, coupon-clipping thieves, spoiled actors, murderous comedians, S/M dancing, Wile E. Coyote, and the supremacy of cats.
 

Toni Perrotta (L) and Pam Trotter

Toni Perrotta (L) and Pam Trotter

 
The two biggest audience-pleasers are In Laws Out Laws and The Masochism Tango. The first, written by Toni Perrotta and directed by Cleo King, features Ms Perotta as Lu and Pam Trotter as Cha Cha, sisters-in-law and neighbors in a duplex, who meet for coffee, clipping coupons, and trash-talking everyone they know. Seems their husbands have been unfairly laid off, and Lu has devised a larcenous revenge; her biggest challenge is enlisting Cha Cha, who frets that she’s “too pretty” to survive in prison if they’re caught. Ms King directs Ms Perotta’s clever script with a fine sense of comic timing and visual absurdity, and the actresses’ deadpan delivery is hilarious.
 
J. Teddy Garces (L) and Jossara Jinaro

J. Teddy Garces (L) and Jossara Jinaro

 
In The Masochism Tango, playwright Bruce Kane twists and tortures clichés into a deliciously seductive dance – literally, a dance – in which a man and a woman can only find satisfaction by not being satisfied. Yeah, I know, it sounds preposterous (and it is), but the surreally logical script, director Bryan Rasmussen’s inventively physical staging, and J. Teddy Garces and Jossara Jinaro’s fiercely intense performances result in a fiercely funny ten minutes.
 
Dan Frischman

Dan Frischman

 
A close runner-up for audience favorite would have to be Opening Statement, adapted from Ian Frasier’s short story by Dan Frischman, who also plays the role of an attorney addressing the court at the start of a trial. Though the lawyer’s client isn’t onstage, within a few lines everyone knows exactly who he is, what he looks like, and why he has filed the lawsuit: the recitation of the charges brings knowing, growing guffaws from the audience. Mr. Rasmussen, directing this one as well, keeps the action simple, which is exactly what’s needed.

David Svengalis is credited with lighting and sound, both of which are well done. Though no one is credited with sets or costumes, all the plays look good, and the set changes are accomplished quickly and smoothly. A series of projections provide appropriate backdrops for the pieces.

The evening isn’t perfect: some of the writing could be sharper, and a few of the actors seem to be playing for the camera rather than the stage, and are barely audible.

But there’s enough talent on display – and enough belly laughs to be had – that you won’t regret a trip to the Whitefire on a Monday night.

Hollywood Shorts
Written by Andy Rooster Bloch, Dan Frischman, Jim Geoghan, Ed Horowitz, Bruce Kane, Ken Levine, Toni Perrotta, and Wayne Robbins
Directed by Cleo King, Ken Levine, Bryan Rasmussen, and Wayne Robbins

Through November 23

Whitefire Theatre
13500 Ventura Boulevard
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
Tickets: www.brownpapertickets.com or www.goldstar.com
Website: www.whitefiretheatre.com or 818-990-2324


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