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City Lights 

The lobby was designed by James R. Jennings and is, as one might expect, a world-class example of the "Deco Boa" style that has made him a hot item on the international glamour circuit. Speaking of items: they say they aren't one. Jennings, that is, and light wizardess Sue Gonczy, who sheds such an impeccable sheen on the Jennings' creation. I wonder? A little birdie tells me they have been seen in the wee small hours in a certain disco!

Of course, that little birdie (aka Truman Capote) is a terrible gossip. What else would you expect from the desk clerk at the Hollywood Heaven Hotel? And that's where you'll find him 24/7 (the deceased are tireless, darling!). But what about that ensemble he's wearing? We're told it's another stellar creation by Roy Haylock, costumer to the stars. I don't mean to be catty, but they say poor Tru has to be pried in and out of it! Not the languorous sylph of yesteryear! And mean as a snake! Why, he hates everyone!

But that's how things are in Hollywood Heaven. Writer-director Ricky Graham's latest offering at Le Chat Noir is, in the parlance of the world it portrays, a laugh riot. It's simple, silly and irresistible. The tireless Graham has pushed out recently into more ambivalent areas of comic storytelling -- particularly, in last year's semi-autobiographical When Ya Smilin'. But with this ebullient new cabaret show, he's allowing himself just to have a whale of a good time.

For one thing, he's stepped back into the limelight. In When Ya Smilin', in the supporting role of Uncle Sid, we saw Graham, the comic actor. In Hollywood Heaven, we see Graham, the nightclub comedian (and comedienne).

Secondly, Graham has teamed up with a great new partner. Roy Haylock burst on the scene a few years back as a wild child from the West Bank and started a winning streak of Big Easy Entertainment Awards for Best Costume Design. Then Haylock began edging into the spotlight himself, with a variety of memorable performances, often with the Running With Scissors troupe, and often in drag. Haylock's two talents finally coalesced in that fabulous, scintillating Hispanic bitch, Bianca Del Rio -- who has become a favorite in such diverse locales as the Oz dance club and the W Hotel.

At Le Chat Noir, the chemistry between Graham and Haylock creates an evening of incandescent tomfoolery. A gallery of caricatured luminaries from the silver screen strut and fret their cameos on the stage -- to the live piano accompaniment of a dead Liberace (Harry Mayronne Jr., who also wrote some catchy new tunes for the show, with lyrics by Graham and Bob Bruce.)

The dialogue is crisp and funny and studded with wisecracks, like this one (to the late, august Ms. Hepburn): "Katherine, honey, if you don't stop shaking, I'm gonna put a load of clothes in you!"

Between them, Graham and Haylock play nearly 30 characters, including Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Lucille Ball and Judy Garland. I suppose there's someone out there who won't enjoy this madcap potpourri, but I can't imagine who that would be.

While things at Le Chat Noir are light hearted, the comic mask at Southern Rep is tinged with darkness. Sexual Perversity in Chicago was one of the plays that launched David Mamet's career, and Bernie Litko, the macho grotesque at the core of the play, remains as weird, repellent and funny as ever.

In a series of short blackout scenes, the play follows two sets of friends: the boys, Bernie (Sean Patterson) and Danny (Gary Rucker) and the girls, Joan (Angie Joachim) and Deborah (Lori McWhorter). Bernie is a compulsive liar with a specialty in sex; he's like a crude version of the Monty Python "wink-wink, nudge-nudge" man. Danny is his shy and inexperienced sidekick. When Joan and Danny fall in love, Deborah, Joan's roommate, seethes with jealousy. Bernie seethes as well, in his oblique fashion. But, not to worry, romance is too fragile and exotic an orchid to thrive in the brutal climate of Mamet's language.

The play can be seen as Danny's attempt to break away from Bernie's control, which is based on lockerroom-style male bonding. Danny has a meaningful love affair, but it turns sour. And our last glimpse of him is at the beach, ogling parts of the female anatomy with Bernie. Solipsistic sleaziness wins out in the end.

The cast is excellent, and director Perry Martin spices the script with some bold interpolations, like pot, pepper spray, and a brief exegetical hint of masturbation (the masturbation is a footnote to Bernie's erotic braggadocio).

In brief: a spirited and entertaining revival of minor modern classic.


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