Theater Reviews

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Flaunting vocabulary that even a computer spell checker can't always find, a South Coast Repertory favorite (it's his eighth premiere there) delivers the goods with a brilliant escapade concocted from lust, greed and insanity.

True, there's more than an echo of Woody Allen's predicament in "Annie Hall," with surprising cultural twists. But what a relentlessly literate and funny use of language, as if Greenberg were Oscar Wilde verging on Joan Rivers.

"Oy gewalt, as it were," 94-year-old Grannie Mac says elegantly as she condescends once more to anyone within earshot; or, showing a tougher side when she exclaims, "Your face freezes as if it were a Botox storage facility." The habitat the fumigated cast resides in contains "books bought but not read," soft drinks served in cans and sipped in straws, wide open spaces that harbor dark little secrets.

The star performance is, as it needs to be, Reg Rogers' magnificent Seth, the grandson who doesn't know whether he's going to be disinherited of his millions -- he only knows that he cares. Flaunting an immensely seductive if sanitized bisexuality, and embracing himself as if afraid his oily essence would otherwise ooze out, Rogers doesn't sit, he slouches. He doesn't walk, he slithers. He doesn't go places, he slums. He doesn't talk, he sheeshes. It's like watching a young Richard Lewis on quaaludes.

With director Cullman guiding them affectionately along their way, the rest of the cast is nearly as good. As the grand dame grandmother, Cynthia Harris makes the transformation from rich Jewish Brahmin, drenched in an incongruously (but authentic) WASPish alte cocker charm, to a heartbroken, dying Yiddische swan with moving conviction and impact (the only real emotion in the play).

T. Scott Cunningham, Seth's unwilling rival, delivers a nonstop commentary on the aesthetic side of life with such wonderful viscosity that he can make a line like, "The remedy for stasis is sometimes a plunge into the absurd," be pleasant to listen to. Lorenzo Pisoni who plays a variety of minor characters, gives a reading of a will that is a total classic. Both Marin Ireland and Caroline Lagerfelt do what they can with the few funny crumbs that are left to them; both also project impressive feminine strength moderated by endearingly goofy touches.

David Korins' set is a gorgeous exploded design which lends itself to a variety of stunning urban habitats, like a succession of beautiful Ethan Allen showrooms. There is another Apple computer sighting, this time a laptop, though, appropriately enough, an older model.

Although the show runs nearly two hours, it is wise not to have an intermission. Not because the flow of witty epigrams and finely tuned performances do not create a stream of unalloyed delight, but because anyone who cares about things like character development, might not return. Not to worry: "The Injured Party" is constructed with an absolute command of structure and pacing. While the audience is laughing themselves silly in the first half hour, Greenberg is establishing a history of shared stories that painlessly and efficiently creates the necessary anticipation.

Of course, this is a very New York comedy, set in 2005 when Christo's installation of billowing fabric called The Gates reached its climax. So, when we learn that one of Becca's former beaux (the crazy one) is performing "Major Barbara" in obscure Plattsburgh -- obscure, that is, for Orange County -- Seth's quick response, his fear that the mad actor "will come back with an Uzi," swiftly carries the audience away until the next joke.

Venue: Julianne Argyros Stage, Costa Mesa, Calif. (Through May 11)

Cast: Reg Rogers, Cynthia Harris, T. Scott Cunningham.
Director: Trip Cullman
Playwright: Richard Greenberg.
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