Going... Going... GONE!
Hudson Guild Theatre
Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann
Annie Abrams, David Babich, Troy Metcalf, and Dennis Pearson
Photo by Ed Krieger
The sitcom originated in the early days of radio, and it has become one of the most-reliable forms for writers as they spin out a storyline. Playwright Ken Levine, with credits from M*A*S*H and other notable television comedies and 25 years as a major league baseball broadcast journalist, has used this structure and set the play in a press box in a Los Angeles ballpark. The back-and-forth among four commentators as a potential no-hitter unfolds makes for some very funny moments.
Dennis (David Babich) is a sports geek whose impressive knowledge of baseball stats qualifies him for the job he is eager to leave. Married to an overbearing wife, his only desire is to get a job with the Baseball Hall of Fame. Mason (Dennis Pearson) writes for the Los Angeles Times and bemoans the fact that there are few jobs left in journalism as evidenced by the layoffs taking place in the industry and the nearly empty press box.
Big Jim (Troy Metcalf) is an online writer whose sarcastic one-liners, heartily delivered, ratchet up the tension as the story unfolds. Finally, pretty Shana Sanders (Annie Abrams) arrives as a substitute commentator in the all-male turf, and she quickly spars with the guys on an equal footing. Abrams’s obvious sex appeal figures into the story, but she is no caricature. Babich’s nerdy character is easily recognizable as the hard-luck guy beset by problems, functioning early on as a foil for the other characters. Pearson delivers as the baseball lover who only wants to be a good writer and keep the job that he loves.
Metcalf gets the lion’s share of the laughs as he slings one zinger after another. It’s learned early on that he isn’t blogging as he sits at his computer but playing a farm simulation game, seemingly uninterested in the actual baseball game in progress. His delivery and timing steal the show. The story is part invention, part history, and a little philosophical musing. The characters are believable, and their genuine affection shines through.
Much of this is due to Andrew Barnicle’s directorial restraint in keeping the human side of the story paramount instead of overplaying the characterizations. He creates a warm comedy in the best tradition.
Levine claims his inspiration for the script is a familiar theme: the need to be remembered. Mixed in with the comic moments are genuinely poignant ones that underscore this idea and guarantee that this play has more to offer than just laughs. For baseball fans, it knocks it out of the park.
October 6, 2016
10–Nov. 20. 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 7pm.
$30. (323) 960-5521.
Bright Colors and Bold Patterns
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
Josh and Brennan are getting married and, although the concept is something of an oxymoron, they’re holding their nuptials at a gay-friendly hotel in Palm Springs. As the LA-based tribes gather to send the couple off, one of the invitees staggers to the pool to join some of his so-called friends attempting to get a nice little desert tan before the ceremony and, perhaps, to try to get even more stoned than they presumably already are. A party is a party after all.
There, at the hotel’s Pee-wee’s Playhouse–colored poolside designed by Dara Wishingrad, Gerry (Drew Droege) holds court in a constantly escalating haze of margaritas and more than a few nosefuls of cocaine, trashing everyone from Dorothy Zbornak and Jessica Fletcher to his ex and the ex’s far younger current boyfriend who knows nothing of the constant ’70s social references zinging right over his lovely head. The latter two of Gerry’s victims are, it seems, stretched out catching rays in adjoining chaise lounges clad in speedos, lobbing away their tormentor’s continuous barrage of caustic verbal torpedoes for a ruthless hour and a half.
You’d think it would be vital to see the reactions of the others gathered, reluctant targets stuck at the receiving end of their friend’s abuse and accusations, but alas, this is a one-man show. Luckily for us, however, Gerry is played by his author, and Droege’s wickedly funny Bright Colors and Bold Patterns is directed by Michael Urie, so although the reactions of the group must be conjured and remain entrenched in our imaginations, the other missing characters’ responses to the abrasively obnoxious Gerry are clear as a bell. Why, you can almost see the bruises—or maybe it’s those envisaged speedos.
The title of Droege’s play comes from the wedding couple’s engraved invitation, which asks that those attending not wear—you guessed it—bright colors or bold patterns, a subtle demand by one of the grooms’ tight-assed society mothers to keep the Gay down at the event, something that infuriates Gerry more than even seeing everyone around him being happy while he, pushing 40, apparently remains drowning in another pool: the dating pool. It’s not hard to see why the guy is alone at the party and, despite his initial insistences of his own domestic contentment, it becomes obvious you’d have to be Helen Keller to put up with this guy for more than these 90 minutes.
Droege’s ruthlessly self-deprecating humor is like the nonstop rat-a-tat-tat of a gay George Carlin clone, and no one is left standing by the show’s conclusion—particularly Gerry. Still, we laugh nonstop at the guy’s outrageous antics and continuously louder and ever more shocking proclamations, so beautifully fleshed out by his creator and the uber-clever director who guides him seamlessly in a tour-de-force performance. It also would be hard not to see how sad life can be for an old-timey gay queen trying to keep his head above water in a new world, and here is the show’s message seething up to the surface from the depths of Gerry’s flood of brutal opinions on just about everything and anyone who isn’t him.
At a time when many same-sex couples are desperately trying to homogenize into the mainstream of our society, the days of bath houses, Sunday brunch deck parties, and fast friends conspiratorially referring to each other as Mary and Grace are all but gone, and poor Gerry is a dinosaur struggling not to get buried in the La Brea Tar Pits with the rest of the fossils. It’s hard for him and many others, one would assume, to remain footloose and frenzied as everyone around you is planning to settle in a nice Orange County craftsman and adopt a few children.
Droege’s gaudy but ultimately sad character is a sad Pierrot clown lost in the effort big time, and, even though the guy will make you laugh until you wish the Celebration Theatre’s bathroom wasn’t so far away tucked behind the building, the underlying theme of the evening is still compelling, something of a final gasp of a tribute to more carefree days past as the world evolves at lightning speed.
October 4, 2016
26–Nov. 14. 6760 Lexington Ave., West Hollywood. Mon 8pm. Running time 90 minutes, no intermission. $20-$25. (323)
Atwater Village Theatre
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
Jacqueline Wright and Albert Dayan
Photo by Darrett Sanders
It’s a lovely sunny Sunday morning in the quintessential color-saturated suburban kitchen of Walt and Barb, who reside contentedly, it seems, in a welcoming bird-tweety neighborhood the couple acknowledges is heaven for Christians, Jews (“After all, they are the chosen people,” notes Barb), and maybe even a handful of conservative Unitarians. As Walt (Albert Dayan) reads his morning paper at their squeaky-clean, blindingly white kitchen table, Barb (Jacqueline Wright) straps on her freshly ironed apron to start preparing her hubby’s breakfast.
Despite Walt’s insistence that he isn’t hungry, his impeccably Stepford-y little wifey won’t let it go. “You look ran-vuss, dear!” she insists. When Walt realizes Barb won’t give up, evidenced by her standing behind him whimpering like a badly wounded cat, he finally agrees to be served breakfast, something she finds to be, in her sweetly ordered everyday world, to be just plain wonderful. Anything he wants to eat, she tells him, will be his. Anything his “little teeny tiny heart” desires. A towering plate of blueberry toast is Walt’s eventual request—as well as the title of Mary Laws’s outrageous and wickedly funny world premiere black comedy.
Unfortunately, it seems what Walt meant to request was blueberry pancakes, but Barb has worked hard to fabricate her new culinary creation, adding honey and smooshing lemon into the blueberries to make her concoction more special. Walt does not want her blueberry toast, regardless of how many times Barb remakes and tosses out the same dish with escalating frustration. And even as their adolescent children (played to Pee-wee’s Playhouse precision by adult actors Alexandra Freeman and Michael Sturgis) enter occasionally to perform chapters of their new play, each section featuring titles such as “The Dark and Humble Joys of Mankind,” things quickly unravel in the picture-perfect world of Walt and Barb.
Director Dustin Wills has no filter, fortunately, because nothing should be held back in Laws’s frantic romp devolving from Beaver Cleaver-land to Mad Max-dom, and no one could find the primal monster within the verbally abused and obviously cheated upon Barb than LA’s own counterculture theatrical heroine Wright. Only a handful of people in her unique category could so totally embrace this role and abandon the thin veneer of civilized behavior as successfully as she does. As Walt, Dayan gleefully goes along for the ride of his life, shouldering the task of becoming a physical punching bag of a Bud Abbott to Wright’s delightfully terrifying Lou Costello from hell.
Amanda Knehans’s incredibly cheery primary color–washed set, whimsically adorned with the children’s Rorschach test–inspired art, random Quaker Oats boxes, Lawry’s Seasoned Salt containers, and an ADT Security Service Sticker slapped inconspicuously on the patio’s sliding glass door, becomes a fifth character in the story, particularly as her work is systematically destroyed during the play’s jaw-dropping 90-minutes of uproarious bad behavior. From the time Barb hurls her first real egg, in what appears to be aimed directly into the front row of the audience, to the final survival-of-the-fittest blood-spurting battle on the slippery tile floor, splendidly devised by fight choreographer Ahmed Best, Blueberry Toast is an E-ticket ride worthy of an interactive Halloween haunted house. Just to realize it takes three workers another 90 minutes each night to restore the stage to its sparkling bright glory tells it all.
So many playwrights would be lost without the dysfunctional nuclear family to shred, but if—and only if—it’s lampooned as flawlessly as Laws manages and it’s as beautifully produced, directed, and acted as by this stellar ensemble of courageously uninhibited artists, the overkilled genre can skirt getting too terribly old. Fighting off the anxieties of growing up banging against the ruthlessly demanding façade lurking just behind the pastoral tree-lined streets and acceptably closeted domestic lifestyles of suburban middle America can be a bear, which is what makes experiencing Blueberry Toast so satisfying. It’s oddly gratifying to see Walt and Barb crawling around their destroyed kitchen floor covered in blood and thrown food while growling like mortally wounded woodland creatures; now if only they passed out rain slickers and a few dozen eggs to the members of their audience, the experience might be just about perfect.
September 25, 2016
17–Oct. 24. 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 4pm,
plus select Mon and Thu perfs. $30. (310) 307-3753.
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