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Valley of the Dolls 

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It is said there are no second acts in America. Valley of the Dolls, currently on the boards at Le Chat Noir, is a comic cross-gender musical demonstration of that premise.

  Running With Scissors, which is presenting the show, has given us many memorable treats over the years. The theater company could conceivably get committed for this transgressive romp, in which case the inmates of the asylum would be the winners and we the losers.

  As is often the case, Running With Scissors doesn't credit the script to a single person; the whole company contributed to the adaptation. Nor is there a single director, although Richard Read, who is credited with sound and video design, no doubt had a great deal to do with the script and staging.

  The video segments projected on a large screen are generally funny. For instance, when Anne Welles (Brian Peterson) wanders the streets unsuccessfully seeking her fortune in show business, she is accompanied by a singing voice that sets the never-say-die mood. After a while, however, we see this voice is not disembodied but a female vocalist who is stalking her.

 The story is complex and somewhat murky, and the doubling of parts doesn't make it easy to follow. But the plot isn't the point in Dolls anymore than it is in a Marx Brothers film. Confusions are counterbalanced by wit and nonsense, as in a telethon raising money for narcoleptic war widows or an angry actress proclaiming, "I'll leave this show with dignity," then turning to reveal that her skirt is hitched up in back, exposing her bare butt. The crucial ingredient is a first-class cast of clowns who could make the phone book hilarious, and possibly get it banned for obscenity, just by dint of facial innuendo.

  Dolls takes us on a safari through a show-biz jungle where predatory stars and wannabes battle for top billing. The "dolls" in question are not Guys and Dolls-type vamps. They are pills — drugs the dames knock back at an ever-increasing rate.

  Helen Lawson (Bob Edes Jr.) is on top of the heap but has to fend off busty blonde Jennifer North (Dorian Rush), Neely O'Hara (Lisa Picone) and Welles. Other performers include Brad Caldwell, Jack Long and Dwayne Sepcich. Su Gonczy designed the lights.

  Though it's a tad long, the Scissors crew holds the audience spellbound with their unique zaniness. — Dalt Wonk

Valley of the Dolls

8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 6 p.m. Sun.; through July 5

Le Chat Noir, 715 St. Charles Ave., 581-5812; www.cabaretlechatnoir.com

Tickets $26 Fri.-Sat., $21 Sun.

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