LA Weekly - Monday, November 19, 2007

LOVE LOVES A PORNOGRAPHER is worth seeing for the care and technique (in performance and in Gary Smoot's stunning, enveloping set design) that's been lavished upon Jeff Goode's new play.

Perhaps it's rude to suggest that Circle X Theatre Company, which produced it, is becoming Manhattan Theatre Club west, with spectacular though infrequent productions of works about nothing in particular, designed more to tour the provinces than apply some rigor to philosophical or theatrical ideas. Such rigor - mingled with playfulness - used to be this company's hallmark in comedies such as Glen Berger's Great Men of Science, Nos. 21 & 22; dramas like Paul Mullin's Louis Slotin Sonata; and a revelatory musical about the origins of filmmaking, Laura Comstock's Bag Punching Dog, by Jillian Armenante and Alice Dodd.

Jillian Armenante directs Love Loves a Pornographer as a perfectly calibrated send-up of English gothic literature. Here, in the Loveworthys' parlour, somewhere in the English countryside, the lord and lady of the manor (William Salyers and Gillian Doyle) invite neighbors Miles and Millicent Monger (Jim Anzide and Johanna McKay) for a friendly game of blackmail. Loveworthy is a novelist; Monger, a cleric and chief literary critic for "The Times" - which Anzide haughtily spits into the crowd at every reference: funny stuff. Loveworthy needs a good review from Monger, which would be his first in 20 years, and we're off and running. The Loveworthys' rebel daughter (Kathleen Rose Perkins) returns home from America with her fiancé, Earl Kant (Matt Ford), a boorish bookseller in a dog-skin cap, whose shop specializes in erotica. (The play gets comic mileage when any character says, in somber tones, "Mr. Kant.") Goode's clever writing comes marbled with alliterations and a well-sculpted structure.

I just don't understand, in a new play especially, why we should care about these jokes or what they attack - venomous literary critics (most newspapers' book sections are now being eviscerated, along with the book industry), the gender superiority of stupid men (an old and easy target) and the moral hypocrisy of the English upper class. (Glad they brought that up; it's hardly mentioned in world lit.) Is this really worth all these resources? That said,

Anzide's villainous Monger comes lathered in oily pompousness; McKay's performance as his wife, pocked with twitches from the abuse of her idiot spouse, is a comedic masterpiece amid this excellent ensemble, which also includes Weston Nathanson as the Loveworthys' manservant.

Circle X Theatre Company at [INSIDE] THE FORD, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Jan. 20 (no perfs Nov. 22 & Dec. 23). (323) 461-3673. (Steven Leigh Morris)