December 18, 2003



'Playground' is in need of some basic schooling


by Rob Kendt

Special to The Times


As stuffed as it is with academic chatter and self-important lectures, what "Death: or the Playground" really needs is to go back to school--playwriting school. Co-writers Dave Jamison and John Cady have a lot on their mind about the meaning of life and the elusiveness of understanding, and they've apparently put all of it onstage, in the mouths of characters who are more paper and ink than flesh and blood.


Worse still, they haven't constructed a play at all but instead a series of sketches, excused from dramatic logic or even thematic development by a purportedly "absurdist" style. Sorry, but if this literal-minded jumble of scenes is absurdism, then I'm a bald soprano.


There are flashes of insight and genuine humor among the chaff, particularly a haunting story about the power of the subconscious told by William Burroughs (Gregory Humphreys) and a rambling narrative from a barfly (Ron Rogge) about a marital escapade gone wrong. And when the protagonist (excellent, sporting Adam Garcia), in whose deathbed-addled mind the entire evening might simply be a hallucination, steps forward to deliver well-modulated musings on wisdom, time and love, we could be watching a particularly engaging one-man show.


Unfortunately we aren't. Instead we get a mixed bag of pointless, talky vignettes accompanied intermittently by tinkly music (by Victor Bertuccelli).


L. Kenneth Richardson makes a fiery Paul Robeson and Craig Cady etches a variety of tetchy characters.


But it's the fine Victoria Ullmann, as a ditzy college student, who delivers the show's signature line with conviction: "So this is like one of those Socratic dialogues!" Not.




'Death: or the Playground'


Where: Lyric Hyperion Productions at the Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles


When: Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m.


Ends: Jan. 11 (dark Dec. 23-Jan. 1)


Price: $18


Info: (323) 841-2270


Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes