One thing is certain: R.J. Colleary was in a playful mood while penning “Happy Face Sad Face,” now in its world premiere at the Elephant Lillian Theatre. The play tells a story from a “serious” point of view, then recapitulates essentially the same events in a “comedic” second act.
It all sounds very intriguing, but Colleary and director Kathleen Rubin, who has helmed two of Colleary’s previous plays, have this time collaborated on a well-meaning experiment gone awry.
That’s a shame, because the entertaining first act, which revolves around a seemingly suicidal man who invades his insurance agent’s residence and holds the entire household at gunpoint, contains a plethora of ingenious plot twists one doesn’t see coming. The opener of "Happy," sadly, also contains a fair number of plot holes -- but nothing that couldn’t be addressed with a little dramaturgical mortar and hard work.
The reiterative second act is another story. Already weighed down by the burden of anticlimax, it is further lumbered with the kind of nudge, nudge, wink, wink humor that is predicated on spit takes, “funny” sound effects, and hoary sight gags -- a middle-aged couple in fetish gear being just one case in point.
The congenial cast, which includes Tom Christensen, Krizia Bajos, Thomas F. Evans, Perry Smith, Eddie Alfano and Sarah Agor, does its level best with uneven material, while Rob Locke is particularly fine as the gun-wielding schemer who fuels the action.
But the lesson Colleary should take away from this failed effort is -- if at first you succeed – don’t try again.
“Happy Face Sad Face,” The Elephant Lillian Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 3 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 23. $20. (323) 960-7770. www.brownpapertickets.com/event/266029. Running time: 2 hours.