ALL YOUR HARD WORK NEEDS MORE HARD WORK
It’s safe to say that no writer sets out to pen an unexceptional play, but despite all of his hard work, the end result falls short. Such is the case with Miles Brandman’s All Your Hard Work, presented by the Brimmer Street Theatre Company and making its world premiere at the Lillian Theatre in Hollywood. It’s not that Miles Brandman’s script is bad because it’s not. The problem is that by the end of the 80 minutes it all doesn’t add up to much of anything to care about. As with so many plays these days, it’s got lots of words but nothing really to say.
Mary Ellen (Amy K. Harmon) reconnects with Jim (Michael Grant Terry), an old college fling while he’s in town on business and the two end up back at Mary Ellen’s apartment. Jim is now married, successful and living the American dream while Mary Ellen is alone, unfulfilled, and living a benign “month-to-month” frequently alcohol-enhanced existence. Sexual tension is in the air. Will they do the horizontal tango or not, and—more importantly—why would they, and what are the repercussions? Several scenarios are floated: revenge, untold secrets, unhappiness, longing, and plain old horniness. Even the poster for the show, an artistic take on a traditional Rorschach ink blot, suggests the audience is in for a journey that will delve deep into the psyche of the two characters. At one point, when an inordinate amount of time is spent with the pair fiddling with a sharp knife, it seems to indicate a foreshadowing that the play just might take a dark turn, a psychopath will surface, and someone will end up dead. Unfortunately, as the plot unfolds and truths are told and secrets revealed, they are not nearly as shocking, involving or enlightening as the script has eluded to—or that the audience has been hoping for.
Michael Grant Terry’s (FOX’s Bones) Jim makes his entrance with an overzealous bravado as if he’s playing to the last row of the balcony at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Perhaps it was just opening night jitters because he soon settled down and ultimately delivered a subtle and multi-layered performance better-suited to this intimate space. It’s a grounded and real portrayal that serves him and the show well; he also masters the state of intoxication, avoiding the usual stammering, slurring and stumbling pitfalls which most actors think of as drunk.
On the other hand, Amy K. Harmon (soon to be seen on FOX’s new fall comedy Knights of Glory) starts off on a truthful note as Mary Ellen, suspicious and wary of Jim’s intentions; but as the show progresses, her performance remains stagnant and never progresses. She doesn’t convincingly portray any true affection for Jim, and plays her role as if they’ve just met; Ms. Harmon is perfectly serviceable in the part—and very easy to watch—but she lacked dimension, nuance and a sense of history.
Stephen Gifford’s set captures Mary Ellen’s one room “bachelorette” pad perfectly, with the theater’s brick walls providing extra warmth. The show is performed arena style with, in some cases, audience members seated distractingly close to the action. Director Michael Matthews keeps the pace moving briskly and utilizes the space very well but his lack of shading and attention to detail are problematic: At one point, Jim decides to cook something. This is supposedly the first time he’s in this apartment, yet without giving it a thought he knows where everything is—plates, utensils, spices; he opens the fridge and immediately knows what he’s making as if he just went shopping for the ingredients that afternoon and has planned the whole meal out ahead of time. He never once pauses to think about what he’s doing or to fumble to find anything. It may be a small directorial oversight but still enough to pull you out of the moment. Ms. Harmon in particular could have used more guidance in filling out her role and bringing more colors to her part.
The evening is so typical of an average theatergoing experience lately: one actor does well, the other does not; the script has interesting dialogue, but the overall play doesn’t give reason for its existence; great direction at times, but missed opportunities at others. But when the overall theatrical experience is a near-miss, it’s forgotten as soon as one departs the theater. The seeds of an excellent show have definitely been planted with All Your Hard Work and they’re ready to sprout, but they need more fertilizer. Principally, Mr. Brandman should revisit some of his choices and up the ante for his characters—then all of his Hard Work will pay off.
photos by Michael Lamont
All Your Hard Work
Brimmer Street Theatre Company at the Lillian Theatre in Hollywood
scheduled to end on August 25, 2012
for tickets, call (213) 290-2782 or visit http://www.BrimmerStreet.org