Laughing at death

Theatre Three carries the humor on a long road through Mamet, May, and Allen

Woody Allen's Central Park West, directed by Bruce Coleman, is the program's most frustrating fare--the longest (or so it seemed), the most gimmicky (even compared to Mamet's, which didn't reveal its gimmick till the punch line)--but it's full of enough profane bitchery to keep us diverted. Sharon Bunn plays an affluent psychoanalyst who makes an emergency call to a dear friend (Cindee Mayfield) to reveal shocking information: the psychoanalyst's husband (Thurman Moss) is leaving her for another woman. Fairly predictable layers of infidelity involving the friend's husband (Terry Dobson) and a bushy-tailed student (Ambre Low) are peeled away.

Confronting another with their betrayal--and phrasing that confrontation as witheringly as possible--is Allen's device here, and its bruising repetition finally wears us down. Allen's recent scripts have grown increasingly leaden with constant affirmations of what he first articulated in Bullets Over Broadway as the right of the artist to create "his own moral universe." Frankly, I don't care what moral universe Allen resides in, as long as it legislates less axe-grinding and wittier insight. Central Park West tickles us with an assembly line of devilish disses, but we're ultimately irked by the pedestrian domesticity of these tony, cocktail-fueled turmoils, inflated only by the playwright's contempt.

The highlight of Central Park West is Cindee Mayfield as the psychoanalyst's smarmy, sycophantic friend. Although a sinner as surely as the rest, she is the most defenseless character in Allen's script, the object of vitriolic attack from almost every corner. Mayfield inhabits her role perhaps more fully than does any other actor in this program, and from her initial, delicate Manolo Blahnik-heeled strolls across the set to her placating explanations to hoarse, wild-haired protests, she bravely and skillfully bears this infidel down a sinkhole of humiliation. Watching Mayfield come apart at the seams is harrowing and hilarious, and reveals far more about Allen's increasingly creepy misanthropy than about his talents as a farceur.

Death Defying Acts runs through August 23. Call 871-3300.

"When it rains, it pours," declares Cora Cardona, artistic director of Teatro Dallas. Her company is currently getting drenched with bad luck, having lost expected corporate grant money because of across-the-board cuts in arts donations and facing homelessness in July 1999 when the Delaware company that owns the Teatro space takes it back.

"At this point, we've heard we're either going to be a gas station or an office space to supervise the development," Cardona says wearily.

She and managing director Valerie Brogan, "out of desperation," came up with a last-minute plan for some sustaining cash. Every weekday in August, from noon to 1 p.m., Teatro Dallas will host lunchtime readings, lectures, films, and performances. For $12, you get a show and some speciality like a tortas (Mexican sub). Bring your own lunch, and for $6 you get the show.

"All the Mondays are taken by Venezuelan harpist Carlos Guedes. The Tuesdays are three scenes from a revenge comedy called A Rose By Any Other Name, which was a box-office hit for us. Wednesdays we will screen a documentary made by Jeff [Hurst, her husband and Teatro co-founder] and myself called Frida Kahlo: A Ribbon Around the Bomb, in which I play Frida. Thursdays, August 6 and 13, we will re-perform a wonderful monologue called The Gay Little Immigrant That Could; Friday August 7, we will perform Pizcas (Harvesting), a piece about a Mexican-American migrant worker; Friday August 14, Conte de Loyo will be doing the flamenco. The remaining days will likely be scheduled with talks."

Cardona and company have also extended their feelers to find a new performance space, which, Cardona insists, they will build from the ground up if necessary (I can picture Cardona laying bricks before we finish our conversation).

"For many performing artists in America right now, struggle is the nature of the beast," Cardona says. "And that's too bad. You hear that the economy is healthy now, yet among many corporations, support of the arts runs dead last among charitable donations."

Teatro lunch performances run weekdays August 3-31. Call 741-1135.

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