John Steppling has always directed or co-directed his own plays. Can they stand on their own?
The answer, emphatically given in this production of the playwright's 1982 one-act "Neck," at the Lost Studio, is yes. Granted director Rick Dean has worked with Steppling, he pushes his own buttons and colors his own moods in his staging.
"Neck" is set in a tacky but "spotless" trailer park, one of the many that polka-dot the Southern California landscape. Its inhabitants are Steppling's cup of tea, pleased as punch with their minimal victories over a hard life, living on the hope that it might even get better. It never does.
A drunken weekend barbecue strips the thin skin of pretentiousness and hypocrisy from the guests. Director Dean gives a bravura performance as the owner of the park, whose sexual desires go beyond his simple-minded wife Vicki, engagingly crayon-colored by Patricia Mattick.
As barriers are destroyed amid the guzzling, souls are bared, including that of a blank-eyed newcomer, played by Cinda Jackson. But little is as affecting as the exploration of shy Wheeler's (a touching reading by understudy Edward Rumann) fascination with the smooth neck of loud-mouthed Nelson (braggadocio made likable in Mickey Swanson's performance).
Steppling's territory is like a dreamscape, an effect aided by the tense nightmarish musical score by T. Baker Rowell, where the watcher is constantly taken aback by the author's sudden images and a poetic line that pulls its pieces into an eventual whole. Dean knows and understands this, and proves that more directors should look into the wealth of worthy material in John Steppling's catalogue.
At 130 S. La Brea Ave.; Thursday through July 15, 8 p.m.; $10; (213) 933-6944.