- The Washington Times - Friday, July 21, 2006

The urge to dis a theater critic apparently is irresistible.A little artistry in so doing is always welcome — George S. Kaufman came up with a pickled dilly of a character with Sheridan Whiteside, the theater critic inspired by Alexander Woollcott in “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” and Tom Stoppard did the same with the stage-hogging Moon from “The Real Inspector Hound.”

Local playwright Paula Alprin attempts to join this august company with “Alice in Underwear,” the story of Allison Alice (played by Miss Alprin), a New York drama hack. She’s meant to be a portrait etched in acid, but instead, it is a wonder the entire audience didn’t come down with bleeding ulcers after spending more than an hour in her corrosive company.

There is nothing remotely likable or “love to hate” about this character — she’s a dragon lady without merit. Allison’s blistering babbling into her cell phone to her unseen daughter no doubt is supposed to be funny, but it’s so horrifically exaggerated that it comes off more like a psychotic episode. When Allison is forced to wear a straitjacket later on in the show, more appropriate attire could not have been found.

“Alice in Underwear” takes place at the Weather Vane Theatre — re-christened the “Weather Vain” in one of Allison’s reviews — where she impatiently awaits an exclusive interview with Sue Z., a mysterious and wealthy producer. Instead of meeting Sue Z., Allison is confronted with a theater full of reporters (audience members are issued press badges at the door) and a handful of spokespersons who bear a more than passing resemblance to characters from “Alice in Wonderland.”

Sue Z.’s people (Colin H. Smith, Laura E. Quenzel, Joshua Steinberg, Jennifer Reitz) take Allison on a nightmarish, cloyingly surreal journey into her past, making her atone for the death of one of their actresses, who committed suicide after reading Allison’s pans. Allison’s comeuppance is riddled with cutesy allusions to classic Greek theater — Sue Z.’s name spelled backward is just one regrettable example.

Just when you think things couldn’t possibly get any worse, Allison has her confessional moment in the spotlight — a mawkish, Grand Guignol tale of incest and the gouging out of eyes, an Oedipus Rex reference that comes off Three Stoogian.

If there is any saving grace to this production, it is that, aside from Miss Alprin’s aggressive overacting, the cast seems vibrant and game for anything — including, no doubt, the chance to be in a better show. For, like a thong, “Alice in Underwear” is brief and uncomfortable.

*

WHAT: “Alice in Underwear,” by Paula Alprin

WHERE: Natural Theatricals, George Washington Masonic National Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive, Alexandria

WHEN: 8 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through July 30.

TICKETS: $22

PHONE: 703/739-5895

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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