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Theater review: 'Cannibals' at Zephyr Theater

May 3, 2010 |  4:30 pm
400.CANNIBALS - Prod Still 1 In “Cannibals,” a world premiere at the Zephyr, Emmy-winning writer R.J. Colleary examines the rusty inner workings of the Hollywood dream machine.  The concept – struggling actors pitted against an unforgiving industry – may be stale, but Colleary has a talent for epigrams, and he zings in hilarious one-liners like a pitching machine on overdrive.

The metaphorically ravenous cannibals referenced in the title are fortysomething actresses (make that just plain “actors” in politically correct present parlance) who meet regularly to bemoan the dearth of roles for older women.  The support group’s founder is Linda (Caryn Richman), a former child star out to recapture her glory before her biological clock winds down. Other members include beautiful Elizabeth (Jackie Debatin), a wishful thinker who hovers “this close” to stardom; frazzled Carole (Dale Dickey), a once-hot commodity turned burned-out agoraphobe; and plus-sized Mo (Amy K. Murray), whose size gets her work but at grave cost to her health.

When wannabe director Walter (Ray Abruzzo) films a documentary about the group, his concept soon skews to include his wife, Donna (Robin Riker), an egomaniacal Hollywood star who functions as the acidic narrator of the piece. Just when things couldn’t get much more existentially painful for our heroines, Walter casts Kimmi (Brittany Ross), a barely post-pubescent size zero who, by contrast, makes the other women feel like Grandma Moses three years dead.

Granted, the characters are stock, but Colleary finesses his stereotypes to vibrant comic effect, and the winning performers, under the direction of Kathleen Rubin, nail their laughs but never pander for them. Gary Guidinger’s versatile set and lighting designs accommodate the smooth transitions in this frothy entertainment, which affords a welcome opportunity to see women of a certain age playing women of a certain age – and that, in itself and given this cast, is a real treat.

– F. Kathleen Foley

“Cannibals,” Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., Hollywood.  8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 23. $20. (323) 960-7745. Running time:  2 hours.

Photo: From left, Dale Dickey, Jackie Debatin, Amy K. Murray and Caryn Richman. Credit: Tom Keller.