Los Angeles Theater Review and Commentary: NO WAY AROUND BUT THROUGH (Falcon Theatre in Burbank)

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by Tony Frankel on June 11, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles

NO WAY

The current production of No Way Around But Through, a world premiere play by Scott Caan, contains many ingredients that explain why L.A. has little to no reputation as a fountainhead of great theater. It is more of a tutorial about the perpetuation of mediocrity than a reviewable event. Certainly, the play is problematic, but the way in which it was produced only made it worse.

In a story that seems more apropos as a treatment for a Judd Apatow movie than as a play, thirty-somethings Holly (Robyn Cohen) and Jacob (Caan) are in a bind. The unmarried, uncommitted couple are suddenly expecting. Jacob has trouble discussing their future because, he claims, he has issues with women in general – they all remind him of his Evil Queen-of-a-mother Lulu (Melanie Griffith). Jacob is counseled by best friend Frank (Val Lauren), and Holly is counseled by Rachel (Bre Blair), who is…who is…well, by God, I have no idea who she is or what she does (or why all the other characters find her so immensely likeable), but she is definitely Holly’s friend. Rachel and Frank wind up in a far more attention-grabbing subplot, in which Rachel admits she’s a lot like Frank, who is basically a sexaholic – so I guess that’s who she is. Anyway, the four inadvertently converge at Lulu’s house in the Valley and the “dark romantic comedy” ends up being scarcely dark, barely romantic, and seldom funny.

In no particular order, here are my issues:

THIS IS A SHOWCASE

The theater in Los Angeles, unlike, say, in Chicago, has a hugely disproportionate amount of theater that qualify as showcases. It’s a phenomenon where actors or playwrights do a show to display their wares, not because they desire to become better theater practitioners. No, they’re as good as they’re gonna get, so actors exhibit themselves to stuff their resumes and hopefully get pull-quotes from the Tolucan Times or a “Scenie” from StageSceneLA (which, by the way, is operated by one Steven Stanley, who bestowed  over 1,200 “Best Of” Awards to 279 productions last year). But the actors in No Way have already done quite well for themselves in film and TV, thank you very much. Caan has a steady gig on CBS’ Hawaii Five-O, and Melanie Griffith’s Golden Globe-winning career speaks for itself (not to mention her rapturous reviews in Broadway’s Chicago in 2003).

Tony Frankel’s Los Angeles review of No Way Around But Through at the FalconBut this is about Scott Caan, who isn’t just trying out his new play, kicking the tires as it were, he’s showcasing it. At this point, however, the play as a whole is a mess (and it will no doubt be published in this condition). The exposition takes a back seat to the relentlessly loquacious, befuddling, and self-indulgent dialogue. Characters analyze and polemicize themselves into a corner of emotionless stupor from which there is no escape. As a result, the play goes nowhere, and only hints at the possibility of truly funny material. Still, Caan is a zealous playwright, and he sincerely explores the confines of language; unfortunately, having a field day with English only results in chunks of spontaneous-sounding dialogue that one would use for an acting class or a casting director workshop.

The expensive production (by Equity-waiver standards) makes sense when you know that a play which has been produced is much more likely to be produced elsewhere (or maybe even be turned into a screenplay!), and much, much more likely to be published by Dramatists Play Service, just like Mr. Caan’s play Two Wrongs, which was produced in 2010 in Hollywood, and now sits for sale in the Falcon lobby right next to the candy.

THE PRODUCING COMPANY

Tony Frankel’s Los Angeles review of No Way Around But Through at the FalconI wish that the innumerable production companies that sprout up as a cover for self-promotion would be honest about it. Can you imagine if enterprises were named, “Three Friends Fresh Out of UCLA Productions” or “No One Will Publish My Scripts Inc.” or “Visonaries for Bold, Life-Changing Theater (No, I-Really-Just-Want-to-be-Seen) Company.” At least the Mineral Theater Company, which produced No Way with the Falcon Theatre (founded by Garry Marshall), tells the truth. They are “dedicated to presenting new plays in Los Angeles.” The mission statement omits one key word, however: It should say, “our new plays.” The hugely successful TV actor and writer Mike O’Malley (Glee) is the head of Mineral and has mounted two of his own plays and, you guessed it, Mr. Caan’s Two Wrongs. It’s no surprise that L.A., the home of self-promotion since Facebook came along, has companies such as this proliferating like mushrooms.

You got tons of money at your disposal and want to be heard? All the power to you. What saddens me about Mineral is that these extremely well-off artists are more interested in their own careers than in funding new works that actually deserve to be tried-out and seen. Lamentably, we live in an age when people use theater as a springboard to further a career or a project: Remember, a produced script, even for three performances, buys buzz. And if Melanie Griffith’s name is inside the front cover of a published script of a world premiere, can a movie script be far behind? Anyone who gets into theater as a business venture is nothing short of delusional, unless, of course, they have money to burn.

THIS IS A VANITY PROJECT

My definition of a vanity project is something that gets done thanks to the clout of the celebrity behind it.

DIRECTION

Tony Frankel’s Los Angeles review of No Way Around But Through at the FalconIt is well-accepted in the theater that writers should never direct their own plays, as they tend to lose perpective, and can’t see the forest for the trees. Just as incomprehensible (and reprehensible, unless you are Welles or Olivier) is directing oneself in the play, as Val Lauren has done in this case. According to his bio, Mr. Lauren, a long-time friend of Mr. Caan, has never directed for the theater before, but he has been heavily involved in film and TV. No wonder that the acting in No Way is so internal and cinematic, lacking the blend of nuance and projection so elementally necessary for the stage. The actors have no sense of space, time or history. Also, I’ve never seen such unmotivated gesticulating on stage: Some actors even mimic others’ wild gestures, which I suppose seemed a very clever character choice in rehearsal; at times, if the sound were turned down, you would swear that the show was presented in American Sign Language. The play is convoluted enough and sorely needs an outside influence with a theatrical sensibility.

CASTING

Tony Frankel’s Los Angeles review of No Way Around But Through at the FalconWhile the director is the key creative element in film, John Frankenheimer once said, casting is 65 percent of directing. I’m quite sure that percentile is higher in the theater. Except for Lulu, Caan’s characters aren’t distinctive to begin with, so distinctive actors are mandatory. The two couples are basically arid, and devoid of characteristics that would make them flesh-and-blood people. If these actors were playing mannered Hollywood actors, they would receive a Tony Award, or in this case, a “Scenie.” While they’re all pretty and in-shape, only Mr. Lauren and Ms. Blair (both of whom previously appeared in Two Wrongs) show some flashes of chemistry. Mr. Caan is the lost cause of the night: The inarticulate, inexpressive character he created on paper has no internal life on stage. But, man, is he ever cool in his cuffed Levis, tight white T-shirt and slicked-back hair. Oh, the vanity of it all. It’s damn near shameless. If Mr. Lauren hadn’t devoted so much time to directing himself in the play, he might have had time for a casting call.

While Ms. Griffith is miscast as the passive-aggressive maternal Dragon Lady, she at least has an innate watchability about her. She oozes a wise/blonde bombshell peculiarity that is mesmerizing (it’s a shame she doesn’t project her personality seven rows to the back of the house). As a result, Ms. Griffith’s lines, no more or less funny than the others’, received the biggest laughs of the night (Los Angeles audiences also tend to be much more generous to famous people). I’m chomping at the bit to see her do more theater.

* * * * * * * *

For more textbook examples of these L.A. Theater Elements Gone Viral, make sure to check out the Hollywood Fringe Festival!

A final note to Mr. Caan: This entire discussion was precipitated by your play. You have four things that can get one very far in show business: Besides being good-looking, you’re earnest, you’re determined, you’re well-connected, and you’re rich. While I truly believe the signature style you are creating for yourself shows promise, your convoluted construction constricts your storytelling. The hope for the future is that you will hire theater professionals, not friends, to work on your next project. As for No Way Around But Through, I challenge you to stop writing around your characters, and create a play through them. There is no other way.

photos by Chelsea Sutton

No Way Around But Through
Falcon Theatre in Burbank (Los Angeles Theater)
scheduled to end on July 8
for tickets, call 818.955.8101 or visit http://www.FalconTheatre.com

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Brad Green June 17, 2012 at 10:30 am

I felt Ms Griffith’s personality was projected to the 7th row where I was sitting, but her voice didn’t get that far. She was extremely difficult to hear and in a theatre that small it is really unforgivable, which is too bad because she was also the only character that I enjoyed.

Every character had the exact same irritating vocal pattern, and the blatantly painted crossroads that sit on the floor center stage in every scene made such an obvious statement (they’re all at the crossroads in their life!) that it came off as trite.

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RC June 22, 2012 at 12:23 pm

I too am chomping at the bit to see Melanie Griffith do more theatre. But in something more substantial. At least FOUR reviews said you can’t take your eyes off of her. True! I couldn’t. That speaks to her Star Quality. And I too was missing a word here and there from her lines. She was great fun in “Chicago,” and she is here too, but SPEAK UP, MELANIE!

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