Los Angeles Times

March 18, 2005

 

THEATER BEAT

 

Skating fable has some rough edges

 

Charm is a quality that doesn't survive a hard sell. Ditto quirkiness. In "The Smoke and Ice Follies," playwright Mark Eisman constructs a snowflaky world of dreamers and oddballs, and director Caroline McWilliams buffs it to a high sheen of willful whimsy. The sum of their efforts is a cloying confection.

 

The Road Theatre cast does have its appeal, and the design—a small ice rink and hotel room set by Desma Murphy, the costumes of Ricky Lyle—has a retro flair that matches Eisman's often quaint characterizations. Tenley (Stephanie Stearns), who narrates much of the play with affectedly girlish coyness, is the klutzy scion of an "ice-crazed family" whose hot-tempered brother, Scott (Zach Dulli), is left to carry on the skating tradition.

 

Only Scott isn't so slick himself; he seems to have the pesky habit of gravely injuring his indomitable skating partner, the brash Gloria (Heather Sher). As their partnership founders, the absurdly tall, blond Melanie (Suzanne Friedline) is on hand as a sort of ice-skating third wheel.

 

Meanwhile, Tenley—named, skating aficionados will know, after 1956 Olympic gold medalist Tenley Albright—falls in love with a suavely self-hating tobacco heir, Philmore (Shaun O'Hagan), who helps her find her true calling.

 

Sound precious? It is. The cast executes some faux-skating routines with straight-faced aplomb—Dulli's eleventh-hour "anti-smoking" number is a hilarious high point—and does its best with Eisman's repetitive and contrived confrontations.

 

"You are over the top," Philmore tells Tenley at one point. We might say the same of Eisman's not-so-fabulous fable.

 

Rob Kendt

 

"The Smoke and Ice Follies," the Road Theatre Company, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 24. $20. (866) 811-4111 or www.roadtheatre.org. Running time: 2 hours.