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Review: 'Years to the Day' finds friends playing catch-up and more

You might have a friend like Dan in Allen Barton’s new play, “Years to the Day” at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. Dan (Michael Yavnieli) is loud, abrasive and politically incorrect. He’ll butcher and barbecue — and probably overcook — your sacred cows. He’s been like that since college, but there’s something about him you can’t resist.

Dan is clearly the playwright’s love interest in this often diverting but thin world premiere, which dramatizes a conversation between longtime friends. Fortysomething Dan and Jeff (Jeff LeBeau) are getting together four “years to the day” after their last face-to-face. They’re on Facebook, so they think they know what’s up with each other — but they’re wrong.

Now what? You can almost feel Barton racking his brains to turn this scenario (which was evidently inspired by a meeting he had with LeBeau, his friend in real life) into a play. His solution is to throw Major Life Events onto the table: divorce, heart attack and coming out. This last revelation feels tacked on and so dated that it gives the play a desperate quality, enforced by the stentorian performances directed by Joel Polis. Oddly, a revelation about Jeff’s role in the recent suicide of a third friend is promised, but never delivered.

Barton’s device of having the characters discuss “the latest film” and “actress du jour” instead of naming names may be an attempt to detach the play from any specific time period -- it seems to be set in the near future, with Dan railing against a partially Latino U.S. president in his third term, a libertarian’s thinly disguised Obama nightmare -- but it comes across as a failure of imagination. Still, Barton, Polis and the actors effectively convey these men's rapport as well as the sad wisdom that graces us, almost against our will, with age. 

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“Years to the Day.” Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 2. $25-$30. (702) 582-8587 or www.ktctickets.com. Running time: 80 minutes.

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