Inconsistent tone, uneven direction plague 'Off the King's Road'

There’s a large gap between the offbeat and the twee. Playwright Neil Koenigsberg stumbles into that divide in the West Coast premiere of “Off the King’s Road,” a guest production at the Odyssey.

The play revolves around Matt Browne (Tom Bower), a recent widower who has returned to his favorite city of London after the death of his wife of 38 years. Matt checks in to a residential hotel just “off the King’s Road,” a sleepy establishment run, apparently single-handedly, by hyper-efficient clerk Freddie (an amusing Michael Uribes).

Matt has embarked on this sentimental journey to distance himself from his crushing grief (and yes, a hidden guilt as well). He tries to outstrip his existential loneliness with a liaison with a Croatian call girl (Maria Zyrianova) who has – what else? – a heart of gold.

Frequent phone calls to his Los Angeles-based shrink, Dr. Yablonsky (solid Thaddeus Shafer, notable for his excellent recent work with the Illyrian Players) are a further distraction. Then there’s Ellen (Casey Kramer), the eccentric widow just down the hall who has her eye on this lonely and very eligible American.

Academy Award-nominated actress Amy Madigan directs – which may be the reason that this production has gotten a fair amount of preliminary press.

Certainly, Madigan has assembled a crack design team, most notably Joel Daavid, whose versatile set neatly accommodates the play’s various locales.

Unfortunately, Madigan’s plodding pacing is a persistent drag, while her tonally inconsistent performers, who run the gamut from the farcical to the lugubrious, sometimes seem to be jobbing in from different plays. That’s purely a directorial misfire, considering the evident talent among these actors.

Yet the biggest problem of this production is the play itself, a randomly plotted exercise that strains for sentimentality at every bulging seam. That unfortunate tendency is particularly evident in the final scene, an irritatingly unlikely denouement in which all common sense is jettisoned and mawkishness prevails.

“Off the King’s Road,” Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 2. $25-$30. (323) 960-7712. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

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