February 6, 2004





Skewering L.A.'s myth and mystique


'Golden Prospects' looks at our so-called history with crowd-pleasing snarls and twists.


By Rob Kendt

Special to The Times


Truth may be stranger than fiction, and that's certainly the case with the under-explored caverns of Los Angeles history, where the spent dreams of hopeful newcomers are buried like layers of ancient cities. From the Venice canals to the Belmont Tunnel, L.A. is strewn with half-remembered stories and landmarks, obscured by myth or collective amnesia.


In Colin Campbell's gloriously old-fangled mellerdrama, "Golden Prospects," that L.A. actually has a history is essentially the main gag. By corseting certain highlights of early-20th-century L.A.--oil exploration, the infamous "open shop," the budding but already craven film business--into the classic hiss-and-cheer style, Cambell and company score some knowing, hindsighted digs at the SoCal we love to hate. Citing the virtual absence of seasons here, one Midwestern newcomer wonders aptly, "Where is the moral compass in such a town, without a winter reckoning?"


And when long-estranged siblings (Max Faugno and Lauren Bowles) barely avoid a sordid streetcorner transaction, the corner is--of course--Hollywood and Vine, where "virtue is cheap."


Everything falls neatly into place on the framed, multi-planed Powerhouse Theatre stage, under Campbell's tight direction. The villains (Patrick Fischler and Christopher Shea) mince and snarl at the audience's abuse, while a tireless pianist (Robert Gates) rumbles and tinkles on a spinet and cliff-hanging exposition is declaimed with comically baroque diction. (The word "cruel" is never spoken with less than two primly delineated syllables.)


The cast performs with uniformly well-seasoned relish and exquisite deadpan poise. Faugno and Bowles are especially delightful, as are Rebecca Lowman as a masochistic matriarch and Mark Rizzo as a seer-suckered sharpie. J. Kent Inasy's stark lighting casts Dianne K. Graebner's classic costumes and Noel McCarthy's inventive set design in just the right profile.


If "Golden Prospects" fails to teach literal L.A. history, its confectionary, crowd-pleasing artifice proves a natural fit to tell stories out of school about a metropolis of false facades as much as actual monuments.


"Golden Prospects," presented by Neurotic Young Urbanites at the Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd St., Santa Monica. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Mar. 6. $20. (310) 572-6748. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.