“Lunch”Woman … Doreen Stelton Man … Lawrence Levy “The History of Blacks and Jews in Television” Nora Donovan … Maria Pavone Jeff/Jack Rudman … Richard Hochberg Ellis Tobor … Jack Kandel Andre Cantrell … George Simms The Powerhouse Theatre Repertory Co. is premiering two energetic stage works that take widely diverse routes to display just how willing the human species is to degrade itself in the pursuit of a corrupt ideal. The results are flawed but manage to unveil some some telling insights into the frailty of the human psyche. Steven Berkoff’s “Lunch” is a gender war waged by Woman (Doreene Stelton) and Man (Lawrence Levy) amid the deceptively serene surroundings of a seaside wharf. For these two, meeting by chance, the mundane realities of life are no match for the grotesquely seductive fantasies they are driven to inflict on themselves and each other. In a Steven Berkoff play (“Greek,””Kvetch,””Decadence”), the words are poison-tipped arrows, but the body is the bow. Stelton and Levy shoot at each other with verbal passion but remain physically uninvolved in the action. Director Brian D. Scott allows them to meander aimlessly, distancing themselves from Berkoff’s passion. What should be an act of mutual cannibalism is reduced to the level of a domestic spat. With “The History of Blacks and Jews in Television,” Alan Eisenstock has written a hilarious half-hour (sitcom-length) spoof of the TV industry; unfortunately, at 70 minutes, Eisenstock stretches the material way beyond the laughs. Director Eric Menyuk is also guilty of sloppy scene transitions and some awkwardly static staging that further inhibits momentum. Jeff Rudman (Richard Hochberg) is an out-of-work sitcom writer desperately seeking a job from producer Ellis Tobor (Jack Kandel). The very white and Jewish Rudman loses out on the assignment because, as Tobor puts it, “What we are looking for is a black writer. I’m not sure that is you.” A vet sitcom writer, Eisenstock certainly knows television; his characters may be entertainment industry cliches but they are richly drawn and portrayed with dead-on accuracy by a talented ensemble. As portrayed by Hochberg, Jeff Rudman is a walking mass of insecurities. Kandel is also quite believable as the producer who deals with failure by reinventing himself into whatever ethnic persona is currently in vogue. George Simms exhibits exquisite comic timing as he scowls his way from street mugger to TV executive; and Maria Pavone is quite effective as the receptionist. P. Eckerman’s set and lighting designs are rudimentary but adequately serve both plays.
Lunch; The History of Blacks and Jews in Television
(Powerhouse Theatre, Santa Monica; 65 seats; $ 12 top)
The Powerhouse Theatre Repertory Co. presents two one-act plays: "Lunch" by Steven Berkoff, directed by Brian D. Scott, and "The History of Blacks and Jews in Televison" by Alan Eisenstock, directed by Eric Menyuk. Producing director, Richard Hochberg; set/lighting design, P. Eckerman; costumes, Sandra Kenyon; music ("Lunch"), Jim Lang; sound, Lori Gerson. Reviewed July 31, 1992; runs through Aug. 30.
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more