Los Angeles Theater Review: A OR B? (Falcon Theatre)

by Tony Frankel on October 30, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

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SLIDING BORES

A or B? The question of Ken Levine’s title refers to the choice between two parallel universes set forth in his two-act two-hour two-hander. Played out simultaneously with flip-flopping scenes that last anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes or longer, this seriously regrettable dumbed-down rom-com concerns a comely woman who interviews with a corporate jock for a marketing job. One set of scenes leads the couple to a relationship, the other set to business. Along with every element of this eternal evening, both parallel universes go bad. Actually, they go nowhere. Together, however, the swiftly switching and often confusing vignettes—which could be scenes if they grow up some day—will lead you to one of the most atrocious events ever seen on an L.A. stage. My personal parallel experience at the Falcon Theatre last night was watching this travesty while concurrently watching my life flash before my eyes.

Jason Dechert and Jules Willcox in A OR B? at the Falcon Theatre - photo by Jill Mamey.Almost a freeze frame of the worst 1970s sit-coms, I actually believed for a few minutes that the show was intentionally awful. Levine’s insulting, downright misogynistic script is what you might expect from one who made a living writing for TV (M*A*S*H, The Jeffersons, etc.): The inner monologues spoken outwardly; the repetitive set-ups leading to unfunny punchlines (“Does Raggedy Ann have cloth tits?” and, referring to a dead cat, “The old puss got the boot”); the phone conversations as exposition; chatting with people that we can’t see (just off camera as it were); and the dialogue chockablock with modern references for easy laughs. Ashley Judd, Sarah Palin, Tim Allen, Skype, and Snickers got nary a chuckle, but “penis,” hardly a modern reference, got one of the biggest laughs of the night even before the actual punchline arrived. The major laugh of the night came when Jason Dechert started choking on the water in his beer bottle and improvised, “That’s strong stuff.”

Speaking of Jason Dechert: How is what I saw possible? Had I not seen this wonderful talent and his co-star Jules Willcox time and again at A Noise Within and Antaeus Theater, I would have thought that these two had just got off the thespian turnip truck. It’s the kind of acting one might have observed in a strip-mall community Jason Dechert and Jules Willcox in A OR B? at the Falcon Theatre.theater during the years that 1960s Neil Simon plays were giving way to 22-minute, laugh-track junk TV—the same TV referred to in Annie Hall when Diane Keaton says, “It’s so clean out here [in L.A.]” and Woody Allen replies, “That’s because they don’t throw their garbage away, they turn it into television shows.”

Hoping that the presentational style of acting would wear off as the play continued (but that would have been a directorial choice and there was NONE of that), we were imprisoned listening to lines delivered at sit-com speed, where you have to fit a large amount of dialogue between commercials. The forced, silly, eye-rolling, insincere, inauthentic, and mechanical posturing was right out of the Bonnie Franklin/One Day at a Time school of acting. Even the taped voice-overs sounded like they were selling a product on 50s TV.

No help whatsoever was Andrew Barnicle’s direction, ensuring that there was no sense of space or time, no subtextual undertow, and no veracity. And instead of guiding his actors so their quick-change realities could be achieved with voice work and body posturing, he has poor Ms. Willcox run on and off stage to change from a red to a blue dress. And in the second act, the dress was abandoned for red and blue light changes by Jeremy Pivnick, who seemed like he was designing for those two-ton dimmer boards seen backstage at a high school circa 1972.

The cardboard characters are matched by Bruce Goodrich’s ugly cardboard set, wholly lacking in detail except for the silhouette of a city skyline painted on a wrinkled muslin backdrop. And props to John McEleveney’s props—it was amusing to watch actors clink thin plastic glasses in an upscale Manhattan bar.

Jason Dechert and Jules Willcox star in A OR B? at the Falcon Theatre.The better questions than “A or B?” are “How?” and “Why?” This would be a good time to go on a tirade (but I won’t) against Garry Marshall and daughter Kathleen for producing and encouraging middling theater, much of it involving film and TV folk who can’t write for the stage. At least in the past, they had one good element that worked (e.g., acting or design), but the full-throttle amateur night in Dixie here is shameful. And, frankly, anyone who read this script and OK’d it is not to be forgiven.

May I also give a shout out to the new class of so-called reviewers who are pushing the pillow down on the face of the already dying critic by lauding crap like this (see the amalgamation of reviews on Bitter Lemons). It’s alarming that any sycophant or nit-wit can get free tickets for their unjustified praise. Honestly, folks, has the science fiction of Invasion of the Body Snatchers come true? Because I feel as if telling the truth about delusional L.A. theater will result in aliens pointing me out and then eating my brains (as if the computer weren’t already doing that).

And I am outta here.

Jason Dechert and Jules Willcox in A OR B? at the Falcon Theatre. Photo by Jill Mamey.

photos by Jill Mamey

A or B?
Falcon Theatre
4252 Riverside Dr. in Burbank
ends on November 16, 2014
for tickets, call 818.955.8101 or visit Falcon

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom November 1, 2014 at 11:45 am

I haven’t seen this one, but critics (or shills playing critics) who promote sub quality material are doing a great disservice to the theater because audiences can only be suckered in to seeing bad plays so many times. Then they won’t believe the reviews of even the good plays.

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Ernest A. Nagy November 3, 2014 at 1:06 pm

This is probably the most wrong-headed, misguided, downright perverse theatrical review I have ever read.

I have seen every play offered at the Falcon Theatre for the past four years. All have been good, some better than others, (the “Troubadour’ offerings have stood out in particular). This one, “A or B?” is, for me, the very best of all. The staging, though relatively simple, is excellent. The theatrical “business” is most unusual and very effective. Above all, the dialogue is utterly hip, utterly sophisticated. The two actors are superb. They deliver their (many, many) lines rapidly and flawlessly. So congenial are they, in fact, that I found myself rooting for them to find each other in real life, after the curtain rang down.

Mr. Frankel really needs to find a new line of work. Theatrical criticism is clearly not his forte.

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Ralph Simon November 3, 2014 at 11:15 pm

The misguided one here is Mr. Nagy. While A or B? was clearly intended as a comedy, it is a tragically unfunny script. And sadly, while I admire Mr. Dechert and Ms. Willcox’s previous work, neither one was able to transcend this material.

Unfortunately, Mr. Frankel appears to be the only critic who is unafraid to report honestly what he sees. The others either sugarcoat the truth, bury it, or ignore it entirely. These critics do a great disservice to theater audiences, both by denying them reliable advice on how best to spend their entertainment dollar, and by causing them to continue to be subjected to this kind of theatrical garbage again and again, a torture that will continue until plays such as this one are roundly trashed by critics in a loud chorus of disapproval.

And trouncing Mr. Frankel just because you disagree with him is harsh and unfair, which is exactly what you accuse him of being.

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JM November 5, 2014 at 8:32 am

After reading Mr. Nagy’s comments I can only assume he either has some connection to the production or is completely dillusional. Over the course of my theater-going history I have literally seen thousands of shows and “A or B” definitely ranks in my Top Ten Worst Shows Ever. I generally am a fan of the shows presented at the Falcon Theatre but this one is a dismal failure on all counts. A comedy generally suggests the audience will be laughing but during the performance I attended there was an eerie silence and you could hear a pin drop for most of the show. It was a torturous experience to sit through. Dishonest critics and advocates like Mr. Nagy should think twice before inspiring people to plop down $45 of their hard earned money on this drivel.

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