"SEVEN AND A HALF, and already she's built to pull a plow," Pamela's mother sighs, dubious of any promising future for her child. What's a girl to do? In the amusing A Picnic at the Earth's Molten Core, Tamara Paris, who plays Pamela, her mother, and everybody else, sets out on a cross-country journey of outlandish employment and self-discovery; though, apart from several colorful characters, I'm not sure what she discovers.

Even though the show's pace is streamlined, its presentation is just shy of the smoothness required to put it over the top. Director Burton Curtis and his co-writer Paris respond well to one another, but at times they've muddled their own material. Paris, who is certainly funny, needs an even clearer sense of where her lines pay off--there's a slight fuzziness regarding which laughs should be hit and which are funnier when tossed away--and Curtis has obscured some punchlines with bits of business. When the two of them are in the same groove, the result is wickedly subtle, as when Paris plays Pamela's brother who finishes off a hefty snort of crystal and berates her with, "You broke Mom's heart." Paris' vocal technique is just right for such storytelling asides, and there are plenty of them that hit home (another favorite: the S&M heart attack victim who recovers "after a couple of glasses of water and a sympathetic hand job").

The main flaw with this worthwhile show is that it doesn't add up to much. The piece lacks that extra edge, and would feel more complete if Curtis and Paris had implicated Pamela a trifle more in her own misadventures. It's too easy having her be superior to everyone she comes across (a striptease episode, however, is hilarious). Picnic leaves Pamela feeling empowered at some temp job and us with an affection for her--but not a clue as to what any of us have gained in the interim.

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