Los Angeles Theater Review: PAST TIME (Sacred Fools at The Lillian Theatre in Hollywood)

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by Jason Rohrer on February 22, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles


Every time I see Leon Russom I wish I had his body. Lean like a dancer, he uses the solidity of his shoulders, the slimness of his hips to create character and emphasize moment. The Coen Brothers like to cast him as movie cops, but I first saw him onstage as a darting, shifty Buckingham in Richard III. I’ve since seen Los Angeles boards carry, among other of Russom’s movements, his button-down swagger as a professional murderer; his stiff weariness as a resurrected patriarch; his groping, eyeless Gloucester in King Lear, the lead role of which he’s going to fill out later this year. I love watching this guy move.

Leon Russom and French Stewart in PAST TIME.

Russom is a physical actor even when still, as he is in almost all of Padraic Duffy’s new Past Time at Sacred Fools. Sitting on a stool, painting little ceramic unicorns with a tiny brush, he is an island of good-natured calm around which French Stewart gets to storm and crash. Stewart has a ton of fun with his role as a distraught, obsessive widower, stomping, flailing, wailing, his gestures informed and his timing excellent. His physicalization is my favorite thing about the show…except it highlights the fact that Russom’s stolid married man is seated the whole time. As good a straight man as Russom is, I would like to have seen these two athletes dance a duet.

That was the show I wanted to see, not the show I saw. It’s just an observation; you can’t always get what you want.

Leon Russom and Ruth Silveira in PAST TIME.

But in this show, everybody onstage gets what they need. As an optimistic young couple (Josh Weber and Julia Griswold) starts out, an older couple (Russom and Ruth Silveira) starts over, and one man (Stewart) pours his lonely grief into an act of contrition that brings him closure. As written by Duffy and directed by Jeremy Aldridge, Past Time may be shelved among the literature of slight, undemanding, life-affirming works aimed at a middle-aged consumer class. Lest anyone be lost, or God forbid surprised, a projected supertitle describes the action of each scene before it happens. A lot of it takes place in a shopping mall, and so the culture of food courts and candle stores is a low-impact comfort element, if you find that comforting.

French Stewart in PAST TIME.The message of this type of literature is to just keep doing what you’re doing, because if you do, everything’ll work out. In the best such plays, like Horton Foote’s warhorse Trip to Bountiful, the journey is the goal; it’s a pleasant world, it makes you less cynical for a minute, and maybe you will spill a tear.

But Past Time‘s characters float in a vagueness of story. The play gives us an unfinished group of Everymen: We know what one of five characters does for a living; we know these people are friends or lovers or in conflict, but we don’t know why. We don’t know them. There is no discomfiting jeopardy to show us who they are. No obstacle derails anybody’s arc, and all the arcs are straight lines almost completely free of drama. Their problems are ill-defined – I didn’t realize the older couple was having bedroom issues until they got fixed. The play’s tidy resolutions are therefore unearned and unconvincing.


Oddly, only half the play is written in an exaggerated situation-comedy reality. A young man has inappropriate and alarming reactions to social cues, giving his date the opportunity for a lot of sarcasm. But nobody in this half, nor in the prosaic parts of the play, addresses whether the boy has Asperger’s. It’s simply left unclear why the girl keeps agreeing to go with him on “dates” that she describes as wildly unpleasant. The boy’s parents seem normal inhabitants of mundane reality, raising two questions: why they let this clueless kid out of the house, and why the play is written in a schismatic universe.

Leon Russom and Ruth Silveira in PAST TIMEDirector Aldridge makes little apparent gesture toward reconciliation. The actors act at whatever size and volume they want: manic, minimalist, microscopic. They’re all at least fine in themselves, and mostly are very good; they’re also mostly at odds. Similarly, Deanne Millais’s set, Matt Richter’s lights, Jaime Froemming’s costumes are kept steadfastly realistic despite the textual goofiness. There is no unity of specific elements here, only of the bromides that serve as a theme.

At a number of companies, the incentive for producing theater seems to be the joy of playing with toys. No doubt, it is fun to organize these designers and this script, these good actors, these chairs. But a play’s usefulness to its audience is in direct proportion to its quality as literature. Sometimes the choice of a given text as a component in a larger artistic vision seems less considered than its commoditization as entertainment: “If you like tchotchke kiosks at the mall, you’ll love this.” Actors as polished as Russom and Stewart deserve better packaging, and an audience of modern big-city theatergoers deserves better product.

photos by Jessica Sherman Photography

Past Time
Sacred Fools at The Lillian Theatre
1076 N. Lillian Way in Hollywood
Fri and Sat at 8; Sun at 3 (no performance Feb. 28)
ends on March 26, 2016
for tickets, call 310.281.8337 or visit Sacred Fools

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