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It's hard to pin down exactly why Theatre IV's "Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile" doesn't quite shine. It may be because most of Theatre IV's shows are so remarkably good that this latest production suffers in comparison. Or it may be because the show takes 45 minutes of solid material and stretches it an extra quarter-hour. Or it may be because the mishmash of themes hung upon the play's paper-thin plot becomes so ponderous that the show sags under its weight.
Whatever the reason, the result is a bit of a disappointment.
"Lyle" introduces us to the Primm family, newcomers to New York who find something large, green and reptilian in their new home's bathtub. Young Josh (Matt Polson) instantly bonds with Lyle (played by Matt Beyer), who, unlike most of his carnivorous brethren, wants nothing more than to be loved. Mom and Dad Primm (Robyn O'Neill and Gordon Bass) soon warm up to him, too, but trouble lurks in the form of intolerant neighbor Mr. Grumps (David Bridgewater) and Lyle's original owner, Hector Valenti (also Bass). While Lyle and Josh are soon forced apart, they are eventually reunited, thanks in part to the efforts of Josh's new friends from the neighborhood, led by Susie (Letitia James).
While "Lyle" certainly isn't bad and generates a fair amount of laughter early on, it never makes the heart swell or sets the toes to tapping. It's not for want of trying from a veteran cast that gives its all in support of material not really worth the effort. In particular, Beyer makes for a very engaging crocodile and Bridgewater hams it up delightfully as the cat-loving, croc-hating Grumps.
Bass, however, never quite gets a handle on his Valenti character, and O'Neill and Polson are wasted playing a mom and son so stereotypical they make "Leave It to Beaver" seem edgy. James has a nice voice, but she is forced to champion a "kids have power" theme that is the show's most extraneous component.
The production is up to Theatre IV's usual technical standards, with Greig Leach's charming scenic design depicting New York locales in a simple storybook fashion. But the final scene, where cast members present a short advertisement for the Bernard Waber books that "Lyle" is adapted from, is a bit jarring. Maybe if the show were better, the plug wouldn't seem so egregious. S"Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile" plays at the Barksdale Theatre at Willow Lawn Saturday at 2 and 5 p.m. and Sunday at 6 p.m. through March 25. Tickets are $13-$14. 344-8040.