Los Angeles Theater Review: THE GRAND IRRATIONALITY (The Lost Studio)

by Paul Birchall on January 16, 2013

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A FINE MESS

The Grand Irrationality:  The title of playwright Jemma Kennedy’s romantic comedy refers to the concept found in astrology relating to ultimate chaos – e.g., the idea that sometimes the stars and the constellations are entirely out of whack, without order, or prone to nothing but random disorder.  Of course, Kennedy’s interest is only tangentially in the stars – her play is far more concerned with the fine messes people make with their romantic lives, which, she suggests, can be every bit as chaotic as a Cancer in Taurus’s third house.  The theme here is one that of irresolution and ambiguity – things don’t always wind up crisply or clearly, particularly when matters of the heart are involved.

Focus of the play is on handsome, aspiring advertising executive Guy (Gregory Marcel), who gets his first big bite of a potentially important career apple when he is invited to manage a campaign for a new type of soft drink, which is supposed to appeal to women.  Whipping up a campaign involving using each soda to symbolize a woman’s supposed emotional quality, Guy quickly earns the kudos of the soft drink company.  Meanwhile, though, the muddle of Guy’s own romantic life stands in stark contrast to his smooth professional rise.

Paul Birchall's Stage and Cinema review of Jemma Kennedy's THE GRAND IRRATIONALITY at The Lost StudioDuring the play’s opening scene, Guy is wining and dining sexy American marketing exec Nina (Kirsten Kollender), who is beguiled by his charms, until the meal’s interrupted by the arrival of Guy’s stressed, huffing, puffing sister Liz (a hilarious Mina Badie, amusingly put out to the edge with the tensions of being a new mama).  Liz whines and moans her successful way into sabotaging Guy’s date – if you look up the definition of “cock block,” you almost expect to find her photo there – but an even more anathemic event transpires when Guy’s snarky artist dad Murray (Peter Elbling) is forced to move into Guy’s apartment after an injury and successfully runs unintentional interference between Guy’s attempts to bed Nina and woo beautiful political activist Vivienne (Bess Meyer).

Paul Birchall's Stage and Cinema review of Jemma Kennedy's THE GRAND IRRATIONALITY at The Lost StudioYes, this is a play about the inability to resolve situations neatly, and a more adroit playwright might indeed have fashioned an artfully piquant statement about the desire for stability versus the truth of the old saying “You plan, God laughs.”  However, Kennedy’s writing, instead of being a calculated comedy about muddle, is in fact so muddled itself that one is almost tempted to suggest that the statement of chaos is an excuse to justify a lack of resolution to any situation or character.  The unfocused play refuses to coalesce around any number of topics – the idealization of women versus the reality, the desire for career over love, the conflict between devotion to family to wishing you could just ship them all out on ice floes – but the ideas are only weakly threaded out and are often left dangling in a way that not only underscores the sense of irresolution, but also just plain seems clumsy.

Paul Birchall's Stage and Cinema review of Jemma Kennedy's THE GRAND IRRATIONALITY at The Lost StudioKennedy’s prime skill is doubtless her witty, often glib dialogue, and the play often consists of trundling exchanges that suddenly snap with an unexpected and welcome barb such as, “her breast milk was one part gin and lime.”  And, yet, much of the piece is also suffused with a sort of self-reflexive, nonironic self-importance, which comes across as unearned and pompous.  It’s also an issue that the pacing established by director John Pleshette is mysteriously plodding.  We are aware while watching that scenes appear to go on forever with very little actually transpiring – characters sit around having drinks while discussing irrelevant backstory, and it’s with some shock that we emerge during the intermission to discover that only an hour has passed during the act:  It feels like two or three.

Paul Birchall's Stage and Cinema review of Jemma Kennedy's THE GRAND IRRATIONALITY at The Lost StudioThe cast crafts likable turns, though some of the British accents are jarringly uneven – and this at times turns into one of those shows where the performers are so focused on getting the accent right that they miss the emotions underlying the dialogue.  The idea that each of the show’s women represents a specific type of female characteristic is appealing, but on execution, there’s a sense of reducing each woman to broad strokes – here’s the ferocious career gal, there’s the frustrated mother.  It seems needlessly simplistic, and for a play about ambiguity, oddly pat.

Still, Kollender’s performance as fierce marketing professional Nina is vivid and appealing – and it’s amusingly contrasted by Mina Badie’s scruffy, end-of-her-rope single mom Liz.  Bess Meyer’s hot tempered charity worker who becomes Guy’s object of desire provides a third female point of view – and, while her accent slips from time to time, her passionate character is likable, if hampered by trite writing.

In fact, it’s left to Gregory Marcel, as the ambitious, yet boyish Guy, to capture just the perfect sense of a complex character – both desperate to succeed and vulnerable, both loyal and emotionally impulsive.  His performance often appears to knit the contradictory aspects of a role that intentionally seems fuzzy around the edges.  It’s a turn that nicely captures the ambiguity that, for much of the rest of the play, merely comes across as muddled.

photos by Dima Otvertchenko

The Grand Irrationality
The Lost Studio
scheduled to end on March 3, 2013
for tickets, call (323) 960-4443 or visit www.plays411.com/grand

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