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Featuring Loretta
"NC-17: No one 17 and under admitted," warns a sticker on the program of Jambalaya Productions' presentation of Canadian playwright George F. Walker's Featuring Loretta. The label is presumably meant to be tongue-in-cheek, capitalizing on the allegedly pornographic themes of the play. Fear not, however. Although the language is at times outrageous, this comedy does not contain prurient material or nudity.

Featuring Loretta is the fourth play in Walker's Suburban Motel series. These six one-acts are set in the same motel room, and a few characters appear in more than one play. Although it's interesting to see how they interconnect with each other, each play can also be enjoyed as a stand-alone effort.

Walker's writing is absurdly hilarious, and the situations in which he places his characters have a dark, farcical quality reminiscent of Christopher Durang's works. In this particular play, a beautiful young woman named Loretta (Carolyn DeMerice) has run away from her home and family and come to the motel so that she can make some crucial decisions about her life. Her husband has been eaten by a bear, she's pregnant with the child of her husband's best friend, and she's considering a number of options that will make her a lot of money in a short amount of time. One possible choice is to star in a series of erotic movies to be filmed by Michael (Tom Oppenheim), a guy she met while working as a waitress at Buffalo Bob's Restaurant--or as Loretta refers to it, "Buffalo Blow-Hole's." Complications arise due to the interference of her would-be boyfriend Dave (John Bogar) and the frequent visits of the motel's Russian maid, Sophie (Maureen Megibow).

A highlight of the production is the original music of composer Adam Balazs, which provides a funky, upbeat underscoring to the play's action. This is particularly refreshing given the shortcomings of other aspects of the production. Director Robert Francis Perillo's sluggish pacing blunts some of the play's comedy, and he never quite manages to tap into the darker elements of the script; for instance, the scene in which Dave kidnaps Michael is completely devoid of menace. The show is properly played for laughs, but one of the biggest problems is that there is not enough dramatic tension between the characters.

DeMerice, in the title role, is remarkably calm throughout most of the play despite the fact that the character is constantly pressured to make snap decisions. This could be an intriguing, bold acting choice if only the goings-on around her appeared more frenzied; as it is, the actress appears oddly disconnected to her role. An exception to this is a moving telephone call towards the end of the play, during which DeMerice demonstrates that she is capable of a wide emotional range. Bogar fares the worst of all the cast members, his lack of energy continually bogging the play down. Megibow is quite funny as the Russian maid, extending her performance to a program bio wherein she (falsely) claims to have studied at the Moscow Art Theater.

Among the performers, only Oppenheim manages to shine consistently. Adorned with a gold medallion, gold watch, numerous rings, and a brown leather trench coat, his Michael is simultaneously smarmy and charming, confident and insecure. And Oppenheim has great comic timing.

The production is the first to grace the new Stella Adler Theatre, relocated from its former home on Lafayette Street to a new location on 27th. One of the professional studios that has associations with New York University, the theater hosts classes in various rehearsal rooms located on the same floor. Unfortunately, one of these classes was in session on the night I attended Featuring Loretta. During one of the play's quietest moments, the sounds of a large number of people in the midst of a very loud warm-up exercise was tremendously distracting and caused some unintentional chuckles among the audience.

Another unfortunate mishap resulted from Mark Delancey's set design--or, rather, the actors' interaction with it. Painted in yellow tones, the set convincingly conveys a cheap suburban motel room. But whenever an actor would bump into a wall (which happened on at least two distinct occasions), the whole structure would wobble and seem on the verge of collapsing.

Featuring Loretta is a somewhat amateurish but serviceable production of a really funny play. It doesn't shine, but it doesn't disappoint, either--unless, of course you, believe the NC-17 rating and the program blurb that promises "This play contains violence, nudity, profanity, and should be viewed by mature audiences only." Admittedly there is some adult content but, overall it's really quite tame.

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