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    Southern exposures

    A world-wise photographer and a naive movie star get an education in war-torn Africa in the slightly zany but smart satire "F-Stop."


    A certain evil dictator (Charles Johnson) sits atop his central African potentate, busily deciding who should live and who should die, when he discovers that his favorite movie star is visiting the country. He immediately invites Hong Kong action actress "Chop Susie" (Patricia Randell) to dinner — and, he being the sexiest kind of dictator, perhaps more. Her visit to the war-torn country is being documented by celebrity photog Caleb "F-Stop" Lawe (Christopher Burns), whom she'd readily give a good celebrity roll in the hay if it weren't for the unexpected presence of his old flame Charlotte (Rebekka Grella).

    Written by: Olga Humphrey.
    Directed by: Eliza Beckwith.
    Produced by: Eliza Beckwith and Kate Downing.
    Cast: Christopher Burns, Rebekka Grella, Patricia Randell, Vincent D'Arbouze, Charles Johnson, Heland Lee, Bill McCarty, James Thomas, Nick Sanzo.
    If this sounds like too much of a zany soap opera to be taken seriously, look again. This slightly over-the-top comedy is also a perceptive satire that tries to give some perspective on the unreality of Western mass-media culture by dropping its heroine — who's tough in front of the camera but naive in the real world — into a situation she is not prepared for.

    Suzanne ("Chop Susie") is tired of being just "a block of wood with great hair" in the movie biz, so she's in Africa as part of a calculated attempt to promote her image by being seen — and photographed, of course — commiserating with the starving, dying children of the amine-stricken country. Of course, she discovers that, just as the world-wise Caleb has warned her, the real situation is a complex one that won't be solved in a single day's photo opportunity. Still, when things go bad and one of the young people is beaten and abducted by the police, she comes up with a Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, "let's put on a show" type of solution: "Fliers!" she exclaims. "We can find out what happened to Ken by putting up fliers!" Clearly, she hasn't figured out she's not in Kansas anymore.

    "F-Stop" is an off-kilter but on-target satire. The character of Susie and the African setting are somewhat cartoonish, which makes them a strange fit in a play with quite serious themes. But the play still gets across its point that about the unreality of celebrity culture and, more than that, how little we understand of the world when we only see it on television. Randell (who, along with several other cast members, also appeared in the very good "Triptych" this spring) does a good job as the fearless but flighty kung-fu star. And Burns as the paparazzo (who repeatedly insists that in spite of this assignment he's no paparazzo but rather a "chronicler of our age") does a great job, managing to look hot in the first African scenes, increasingly haggard as the plot thickens, and yet quickly recomposed when the action switches back to the safety of the West.

    JULY 1, 2000

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