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Almost Love

"Almost Love" is almost unbearable. What keeps it from being completely so is the chemistry between the two performers onstage, Scott Caan, who also wrote this piece, and Val Lauren. The actors have, ill-advisedly, directed themselves, and with the undisciplined writing and staging, this piece is amateurish and maddeningly repetitive.

Danny - Scott Caan Erik - Val Lauren Star - Laura Katz

“Almost Love” is almost unbearable. What keeps it from being completely so is the chemistry between the two performers onstage, Scott Caan, who also wrote this piece, and Val Lauren. The actors have, ill-advisedly, directed themselves, and with the undisciplined writing and staging, this piece is amateurish, ridiculously overextended and maddeningly repetitive. But at moments it manages to display some real comic acting talent, particularly showcasing a very funny Lauren.

Budding star power — Caan’s name appears above the title in the recently released feature “American Outlaws” — has its rewards and detriments, which can be one and the same: One can get vanity stage projects, produced at one’s acting school, publicized and seen by more folks than the work deserves. Thus a silly experiment, a bit of juvenilia akin to buddies goofing around with a couple of guitars in the garage and calling whatever comes out a song, gets presented to the public as if it were a concert. Fortunately, this exercise is free — only a donation is requested.

“Almost Love” is about two best buddies, both out-of-work actors, the neurotic, hyperactive Danny (Caan), and the neurotic, mellower Erik (Lauren). The flimsy plot, if one can call it that, involves Danny agonizing about whether he should get back together with a girlfriend he loves but who drives him crazy, and Erik trying to convince him not to. Danny believes in love and in telling the truth; Erik believes in sex and spins fanciful tales of erotic exploits.

About halfway in, the play turns farcical with the contrived but, at this point, refreshing arrival of Star (Laura Katz), a tall and trashy beauty ready for a threesome since Erik has convinced her that he plays a character named “Little Pussy” on “The Sopranos,” and that Danny’s a producer of the show.

There’s enough material here for about a half-hour of fatuous amusement, and if Caan is actually interested in learning the craft of writing, it would be a worthwhile exercise to whittle this piece down to its deserved length. But this is really an acting showcase, and each performer gets to display some skills: Caan has charm and delivers a dose or two of sincerity, Lauren displays terrific timing, and Katz shows off an ability to play both ditzy and sharp at the same time.

A director would have been nice. The more annoying indulgences, such as Caan’s constant pacing, could have been reined in, and shape could be brought to the show’s funniest scene, which involves an enormous mound of cocaine. Characters, a story and some controlled dialogue would do wonders, too.

Almost Love

Playhouse West, North Hollywood; 54 seats; free

Production: A Playhouse West Repertory Theater presentation of a one-act play by Scott Caan. Directed by Scott Caan, Val Lauren.

Creative: Stage manager, lights and sound, Zach Moura. Opened, reviewed Aug. 21, 2001; runs Aug. 22-26, Sept. 9, 15, 16, 22, 23. Running time: 1 HOUR, 20 MIN.

Cast: Danny - Scott Caan Erik - Val Lauren Star - Laura Katz

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