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Shattuck's energetic characters and situations, while contemporary, seem torn from the pages of '30s screwball comedies. When novelist Cliff (Tommy Hinkley) and screenwriter Haley (Shattuck) team up to write a romantic play, their characters begin to act out some of the creators' fondest fantasies and worst fears.

With:
Loneliness ... Spencer Beglarian Kate ... Carolyn Hennesy Cliff ... Tommy Hinkley Racheal ... Karesa McElheny Mac ... Ronn Moss Avery ... Christian Noble Haley ... Shari Shattuck Playwright and actress Shari Shattuck's delightful romantic comedy not only displays her talent as a stage performer but also as a writer.

Shattuck’s energetic characters and situations, while contemporary, seem torn from the pages of ’30s screwball comedies. When novelist Cliff (Tommy Hinkley) and screenwriter Haley (Shattuck) team up to write a romantic play, their characters begin to act out some of the creators’ fondest fantasies and worst fears.

In the play within a play, painter Racheal (Karesa McElheny) takes a lover, Avery (Christian Noble), which leads to problems with Racheal’s husband, Mac (Ronn Moss).

As the writers argue over the shape of the play and the characters’ motivations, art begins to imitate life, and the two scribes come close to falling in love. Cliff’s wife Kate (Carolyn Hennesy) begins reading all the signals, and we’re off to the races with dueling love triangles.

Rather than leaning on one-liners, Shattuck is faithful to her characters, finding their real emotions and never shortchanging them for a joke. She also has the rare ability to take a theatrical device, such as writers pulling the strings of their characters’ lives, and make it fresh.

While the tone is romantic comedy, there are enough dark edges to give the piece some depth. A continuing, metaphorical character is Loneliness (Spencer Beglarian), who takes his turn with each of the people in the play. One scene between the distraught Haley, who is consoling herself with Billie Holliday records late at night, and her old friend Loneliness is terrifically written and performed by Shattuck.

The ensemble is not only talented, but also strikingly attractive. Hinkley is a perfect foil for Haley’s romantic fantasies, and shines as the rumpled yet devastatingly appealing writer. Hennesy is terrific as the writer’s wife who, while she loves her husband and kids, is still more than a tad envious of the single Haley, who she quips has “butt you could bounce a quarter off of.”

The “fictional” players are also excellent. McElheny is stylishly seductive as the philandering painter; Noble is endearing as her enthusiastically innocent lover, and Moss gives a finely crafted performance as the narcissistic yet vulnerable husband. Beglarian shows solid comedic gifts as Loneliness.

Direction by Michael Weiss is solid, carefully crafting the tone of the piece. However, the evening belongs indisputably to Shari Shattuck.

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In Progress

(Matrix Theatre, W. Hollywood; 99 seats; $ 10 top)

Production: Bratboy Prods. presents a romantic comedy in two acts by Shari Shattuck; director, Michael Weiss; producer, Karesa McElheny.

Creative: Set design, Cary Schramm; lighting, Walter Harrison. Opened Aug. 14, 1993; reviewed Aug. 21; runs through Sept. 12.

Cast: Loneliness ... Spencer Beglarian Kate ... Carolyn Hennesy Cliff ... Tommy Hinkley Racheal ... Karesa McElheny Mac ... Ronn Moss Avery ... Christian Noble Haley ... Shari Shattuck Playwright and actress Shari Shattuck's delightful romantic comedy not only displays her talent as a stage performer but also as a writer.

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