Theater Reviews

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Wilshire Theatre, Los Angeles
Through Jan. 28


You know you're in for a fairly enjoyable trashy evening of theater when a play begins in a scheming producer's dingy Manhattan office and there are crummy off-Broadway posters on the wall. Mel Brooks followed this formula to success in "The Producers," and while James Kirkwood's "Legends!" is no "Producers," it's not exactly chopped liver, either.

Truth to tell, the first time around, "Legends!" was chopped liver. When Carol Channing and Mary Martin headlined the show in 1986 at the Ahmanson Theatre, it was a legendary bomb. The two stars hated each other (read Kirkwood's gory account in his "Diary of a Mad Playwright"), Martin had a hearing problem, and despite their personal animosity, neither lady was bitchy enough to make the fur fly.

But with Joan Collins and Linda Evans starring as our two fading divas, the comedy finally gets some of the juice it deserves. The gimmick, of course, is that the performers also are reprising their acrimonious relationship from "Dynasty," where, as Alexis Colby and Krystle Carrington, respectively, they were "rivals to the death."

"Legends!" is basically a two-act catfight with Collins as the snarling alley cat and Evans as the purring parlor pussy with a few tricks of her own up her mink-lined sleeve. Collins' Sylvia Glenn is an eight-times married movie star who has specialized in playing vixens, vipers, hookers and tramps. Evans' Leatrice Monsee has a resume of roles that includes nuns, saints and a "retarded" young heroine too cute and sweet for her own good. Both actresses are flat broke, but you'd never know it from the clothes they wear and the dog they put on for each other's benefit.

Setting the play in motion is that scheming producer (Joe Farrell), who is trying to trick Sylvia and Leatrice into starring together in a new off-Broadway play, supposedly co-starring Paul Newman. Once thrown together, they start trading insults, old grievances and lies, stopping only to catch their breath and dish some dirt. In Act 2, we get more of the same, this time under the influence of hashish brownies that both have ingested by mistake. This makes for a slightly more honest round of insults and revelations but nothing to be confused with dramatic truth.

For comic relief we have Aretha (Tonye Patano), a rambunctious black maid played in the once-familiar key of aw-shucks, these-white-folk-are-sure-strange. There's also Boom-Boom Johnson (Will Holman), a black Chippendales stripper who gets to show his stuff. In both cases, the play and director John Bowab don't hesitate to take full advantage of all available stereotypes.

The show is in the midst of a long national tour that has an undeniable hit-and-run feel to it. Fans of the two "Dynasty" stars probably will love the tacky proceedings. Others might not be so generous.

LEGENDS!
Ben Sprecher, William P. Miller, Percy Gibson, Wendy Federman, Spring Sirkin and Max Cooper in association with David and Ed Mirvish
Credits:
Playwright: James Kirkwood
Director: John Bowab
Set designer: Jesse Poleshuck
Lighting designer: Phil Monat
Costume designer: Nolan Miller
Sound designers: T. Richard Fitzgerald, Carl Casella
Cast:
Sylvia Glenn: Joan Collins
Leatrice Monsee: Linda Evans
Martin Klemmer: Joe Farrell
Aretha: Tonye Patano
Boom-Boom Johnson: Will Holman
Policeman: Ethan Matthews
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