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[whitespace] 'Suburban Motel' 'Shroom Service: Brain-dead motel manager Kirk Adams (standing) adds to the antagonism between husband and wife Bill Olsen and Lenoir Keeve.


Lowlifes, High Comedy

The denizens of 'Suburban Motel' try to cope at City Lights

By Michael J. Vaughn

USING FOOTBALL terminology, there were a lot of fumble recoveries at Friday's City Lights production of Suburban Motel, Part 1. The onstage mishap (and how an actor responds to it) is a fun little sidelight for the veteran playgoer, as well as an indication of the level of training on stage. Some highlights:

1.) Lenoir Kieve, playing a frustrated mother, gets her foot caught in a loop of phone wire, turns around to shake it off, gets it stuck again, then breaks script to turn around and yell a perfectly in-character "Dammit!" as she yanks it off her foot. Broken play turned into a gain of yardage.

2.) James Marbury, playing a drunken cop, says "hotel" instead of "motel," mistakenly breaks his line to correct himself, then, quickly seeing his error, turns it into a bit of alcoholic "hotel, motel, shmotel" wordplay. Quarterback falls on fumbled snap.

3.) Jackie O'Keefe tries to light Ray Holt's cigarette but fails to get enough flame on her match. Before the smokeless cigarette disrupts the scene, Holt quickly locates a lighter on the nightstand and does the job himself. Fumble recovered by teammate.

The same brand of flawed reality inhabits George F. Walker's creations, a pair of one-act plays taking place in the same seedy motel room.

In "Problem Child," mother Denise (Kieve) and hubby R.J. (Bill Olson) are trying to retrieve Denise's daughter, who was taken away by the state following Mommy's growing fondness for chemicals. Their main obstacle is Helen (Jennifer Fagundes), a snippy, patronizing social worker.

As annoying as Helen is, you begin to realize she's also entirely right. Denise, who keeps pleading, "I need my baby!" has obviously set the kid up as the answer to her problems, and otherwise is about as stable as free-range plutonium. Looking at R.J., who has gained some sense of reason and compassion through eight years of prison, she comments, rather nostalgically, "You used to be as messed up as me, and now ... you're a rock!"

The comic highlights come from the artfully brain-dead motel manager (Kirk Adams) and especially from Fagundes, whose wide-eyed expressions achieve maximum effect following Helen's surprisingly adventurous afternoon. Olson, though likable, seems a little unsure how to play R.J., whereas Kieve manages to pull poignancy out of a very hateful character.

The lowlifes are strictly professional in the second half, "Adult Entertainment," in which police detective Max (Holt) and defense attorney Jayne (O'Keefe) are enthusiastically mixing business with adultery. Though professing to be hollow and cynical, Jayne is seeking help in transferring a crime from a misled client to her young hoodlum boyfriend. Max, who professes to be only after sex, would actually like to get some info from Jayne's client on the whereabouts of a suspect in another case. As much as they'd like to pretend otherwise, they care about their jobs.

The whole deal goes wondrously awry, thanks to Max's partner, Donny (Marbury), whose affection for booze and hookers has cost him his beautiful wife, Pam Deveraux (Lilly Small). Donny's a godawful mess, but Marbury endows him nonetheless with a remarkable humanity, the scars of a man who has been dragged down by his surroundings. O'Keefe, meanwhile, has a great time with Jayne's delectable Dorothy Parker bitterness, while Holt's Max provides a solid centerpiece for the eventual chaos (not to mention the only accent that smoothly accommodates the Canadian "aboot").

Whether for pure comedy or thankfulness that we're not them, we seem to be fond of having friends in low places. Walker, who made most of his early living as a Toronto taxi driver, turns all this seediness into a rough kind of poetry, and the City Lights cast, under directors Christy Holy and Ross Nelson, gives it an accomplished reading. Not to mention a great turnover ratio.


Suburban Motel, Part 1 plays Thursday-Sunday through Feb. 10 at 529 S. Second St., San Jose. Tickets are $15-$18. (408.295.4200)

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From the January 25-31, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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