WITH A LITTLE LOVE, THIS COULD BE GREAT
The perfect show is like the happy marriage: you can go decades without seeing one. If the script is good, the lead actor is usually somebody’s cousin, or the director doesn’t understand the material; a great production almost never has a great script. And so on. Eclectic Company Theatre’s world premiere of Andrew Osborne’s No Love is not the perfect show, for many reasons. But it is the only chance to see this dynamic, fascinating comedy on its feet right now, and worth a trip to the Valley.
No Love consists of a series of vignettes – who doesn’t hate reading that in a review? keep going, though – in which love, or some awful variation, destroys everyone’s chance at happiness. Characters include a reluctant BDSM top (Ryan McDonough) in lust with his fag-hag sister (Beth Ricketson), who’s in love with her gay best friend (Dustin Brooks), who delivers a hallucinogen-inspired kiss to his Army buddy (Daniel Marmion), who really wants to get together with the girl (Michelle Danyn) who doesn’t think of him that way. There’s also a comic rape victim (LiLi Stephens-Henry) who just wants consolation from a suicidal loser (Blake Anthony) obsessed with his first love (Laura Lee Bahr).
Now that I look at it, that all sounds trite.
It’s not, though, at least as written. Yes, it opens with a long, unnecessary monologue, staged by Kerr Seth Lordygan in a manner that highlights how disposable it is. And ten minutes could be trimmed from the middle. But besides that, Mr. Osborne’s writing offers a consistently surprising look at the bizarre relationships everyone indulges because we have no other choice. These are our people; this is what we do with them. Nobody on earth is sane. Our fetishes, our loneliness, our desires, all make maniacs of us for a moment or a lifetime. Most of us have the ambition but not the skill, or the hope but not the heart, to achieve more than a fleeting happiness. Our redemption lies in the inability to recognize the futility of the attempt. We just keep on trying, and that’s what creates the comedy. The horror and beauty of real life are present in this script, and in capable hands could be led dancing and prancing off the page.
But not in these hands. A constant issue with vignette plays is what to do with all those energy-sucking, momentum-killing transitions between scenes: is it a lights-up lights-down clunk-around-in-the-dark choice (bad)? Or is it a do-something-playful-in-the-transitions choice (better)? Or is it a streamlined, seamless, direct-the-hell-out-of-it choice that zooms directly from one scene to the next, maintaining the play’s natural flow (best of all)? Mr. Lordygan has choreographed a bit of business between a few of the scenes, but has left many of the transitions to wallow and thud on their own. What he allows to happen in the moments of actual action is almost as bad.
Mr. Lordygan has a tendency to leave actors onstage too long, and most of his cast doesn’t know how to find its light (in their defense, John Dickey’s lighting leaves everyone in the dark much of the time) or how to act if they do find it. The good actors more or less find the jokes – Ms. Bahr and Mr. Brooks in particular make the most of their time onstage – and the bad actors either don’t, or they oversell them, while half-executing patterns of pantomime around Marco De Leon’s cramped, awkward set. The show is full of murder, simulated sex, nudity, and drug use, and yet it can be pretty dull. The grand guignol moments fall dead because nobody has framed them or made them accessible or related them to anything else that’s going on around them. The production calls itself “adventurous,” but this turns out to be a euphemism for “puts actors in uncomfortable positions and gives them no help getting out of them.”
It would be very easy to walk away from this production with the impression that this is a badly written play. It’s not perfect, but my hope is that a capable producer who can see its potential, and who would like to give it a worthier staging, comes to see it here and gets in touch with Andrew Osborne.
photos by David Nott
The Eclectic Company Theatre in Valley Village (Los Angeles)
scheduled to end on October 6, 2012
for tickets, visit http://www.eclecticcompanytheatre.org