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Angel City, American Theater Company. It's hard to believe that in 1976, at the height of his creative powers, Sam Shepard could lay a semi-turd like Angel City. A two-act play intended to skewer the megalomania of the Hollywood studio system, it begins with all the verbal ingenuity and quasi-mythic fantasy of Shepard's masterful 1972 The Tooth of Crime, which skewered the megalomania of corporate rock and roll.

Crazed movie producers Lanx and Wheeler have summoned script doctor Rabbit, who wears imitation medicine bundles tied to what Shepard calls his "detective type suit and overcoat." They need Rabbit to dream up some catastrophic event for their stalled film--something that will "create mass hypnosis, suicide, auto-destruction." For one dynamic act, Shepard lampoons both Hollywood's self-importance and the mind-controlling power of movie culture. But in act two every promising idea dead-ends, and the play disintegrates.

Director Damon Kiely imagines Angel City as a madcap satire; his Lanx and Wheeler are such buffoons one wonders if they could produce a church pageant, let alone a major motion picture. This sitcom take, which makes Rabbit's life-or-death assignment a diversionary romp, eliminates the dangerous edge of Shepard's play. The production can only work overtime for laughs, an effort that pays off about half the time.

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