Commendable ambition but cliched narrative in 'Disconnection'

Review: 'Disconnection' by the Skylight Theatre Company at the Beverly Hills Playhouse falls short

Playwright Allen Barton bravely dares the lion's den in “Disconnection,” his world premiere play, presented by the Skylight Theatre Company at the Beverly Hills Playhouse.

 The title refers to the Church of Scientology's controversial policy of shunning anyone critical of its teachings. And although Scientology is never specifically mentioned by name, “Disconnection” is a thinly veiled roman à clef debunking that particular institution, of which Barton is a former member.

Considering the aggressive nature of “the Church” toward past critics, Barton's effort certainly took guts. And the fact that the Skylight Company, formerly the Katselas Theatre, was founded by the late Milton Katselas, revered acting teacher and a longtime Scientologist himself, makes the effort even more noteworthy.

Apart from that undeniable gutsiness, however, Barton's attempted exposé falls lamentably short. A bizarre hybrid of polemic and melodrama, it preaches to a fault, and while its lexicon – specific references unique to Scientology -- offers a fascinating glimpse of an arcane institution, the play itself is too self-consciously declamatory to resound on the emotional level Barton so clearly intends.

The action spans some 20 years, during which we meet new church recruit Landon (Bo Foxworth, alternating in the role with Jay Huguley), whose new piano teacher and friend, Michel (Dennis Nollette), a longtime church member and intimate friend of the church's late founder (Robert L. Hughes) helps him cope with crushing personal loss.

Yet over time, Landon becomes bitterly disaffected with the church – and increasingly concerned for his daughter, Tess (Carter Scott), a high-ranking church functionary, as is her husband (Luke Cook). But it is Tess' adamant refusal to end her current pregnancy, as dictated by church policy, that puts her at violent odds with the despotic Chairman (Everette Wallin).

The monologue-heavy dialogue drags the action and reduces the characters to philosophical exponents who all sound rather alike. As for director Joel Polis, he fails to mitigate the static quality of his material, planting his performers in undynamic tableaux as they drub home a message as muddled as it is repetitive.

"Disconnection,” the Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills. 8:30 p.m. Fridays; 8 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 1. $30-$34. (213) 761-7061. skylighttix.com Running time: 2 hours.

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