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Stage Review: A playwright runs from his past

Playwright Charlie is in the first stable relationship of his life with beautiful, loving Shelly. What could possibly go wrong?

How about three gorgeous ex-girlfriends — with agendas — who show up while Shelly is out of town?

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In his new play, "The Trouble We Come From," making its debut at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank, actor-playwright-screenwriter Scott Caan (series regular Danny "Danno" Williams on CBS' "Hawaii Five-O") serves up an entertaining male-centric exploration of sex, love and commitment with deft comic zing, and a believable sober undercurrent.

Charlie (played with notable conviction by stage and screen’s Michael Weston) arrives home in a panic straight from his play’s opening night performance, frantically trying to reach Vince (Caan), his best friend and the play’s leading man, on his cellphone, while at the same time getting rid of a lacy red thong draped suggestively on the couch, pouring wine down the kitchen sink and snuffing out candles.

Directed with crisp timing by director Matt August, the play careens through Caan's lively, Ping-Pong dialogue as we learn through flashbacks what has upped Charlie's already overflowing supply of angst and guilt: Three women from his past have all turned up over the last 24 hours, and his live-in love Shelly (Claire van der Boom, whose film and television credits include HBO's "The Pacific" and a recurring role as Danno's ex-wife on "Hawaii Five-O"), had just left to visit her parents after announcing that she was expecting.

Is it coincidence that these women have chosen this day to see Charlie, wanting to resume where they left off? Did they somehow pick up on the fact that he is finally happy and feel the need to make him miserable again? Or perhaps it's just some sadistic fate that has brought these women back.

Charlie is coming unhinged. He doesn't want to ruin things with Shelly, despite the amazingly hot and demanding Joanna, sexy older woman Samantha and the one-time love of his life, Kelly. (Teri Reeves, managing director of L.A.-based Chalk Repertory Theatre, is splendid in her quadruple roles as Charlie's three former lovers and one anonymous come-hither blonde.)

But maybe Charlie really does want to sabotage his relationship. His back-and-forth with Vince reveals that Charlie is pretty much compelled to do the wrong thing. Screwing things up, it seems, is his default position. So can he fight it this time? Then again, why should he, Charlie wonders? Maybe he should just jump out a window.

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"I swear to god my brain would kill me," Charlie says, "if it didn't need me for transportation."

To the rescue: Vince, who may not have Charlie's intellectual prowess and who can't relate to the dysfunction at the root of Charlie's dark side — a childhood of neglect and abandonment, equating love with sex for hire — because his own dad just sells shoes and his mom "makes food." Vince, who doesn't like seeing his friend suffering, who knows that Shelly is the right one, and who talks both smack and sense with a breezy brashness that can't mask genuine caring. (Caan makes the role both credible and unexpectedly sweet.)

Van der Boom finally makes her entrance as Shelly in a twist ending that shifts the play into a lower emotional gear and wraps things up in a fitting, albeit somewhat anticlimactic, underscoring of the play's message of redemption and the meaning of love.

Top marks for production values throughout. Costume designer Kathryn Poppen dresses each of Reeves' distinct characters with a keen eye for their defining personalities. Stephen Gifford did the sleek set design — exposed brick, chrome, neutral colors —that serves as the interior of Charlie's house and the back of the theater where Charlie's play is being staged. Robert Arturo Ramirez's clean sound design is a plus and lighting designer Luke Moyer nicely evokes Charlie's long night of self-discovery from evening to sunrise.

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What: “The Trouble We Come From”

Where: Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Friday; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday. Ends July 12.

Tickets: $36.50 to $44.

Contact: (818) 955-8101, falcontheatre.com

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LYNNE HEFFLEY writers about theater and culture for Marquee.

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