What fun can there be in going to plays night after night? Critics hear the question all the time, and have different answers. This corner’s answer is simple: Seeing a playwright come up with a better play than his last one.
That’s one reason why Gary Jacobelly’s raucous “Catch” at Al’s Bar is fun (it’s also serious, but more on that in a moment). Jacobelly is clearly getting his voice together. His last play, also at Al’s, was a dreadful bit of word spew called “The Skin Man.” But it was obviously necessary for him to get something out of his system before “Catch.” There’s a real play here.
Director Tim Hanson and a dedicated cast have certainly helped. Jacobelly sets up a funny situation, in which Tony (a slightly stilted Jeff Hawk), a bitter San Pedro kid who wants to get out of town, ends up hosting a party when a bunch of people come over unannounced. Hanson and company start the juices flowing, creating just the right tension between a good time and a weird one.
That isn’t easy to do, but it is this tension which is at the heart of “Catch.” We hardly need to mention that drugs are the fulcrum, but they help define character. Tony sees the bag of coke as his meal ticket; whacked-out Gino (a fine Michael Costello) can’t take the challenge it poses. Tony’s pal Mike (a cherubic Ken Abraham) hasn’t made up his mind, so his character is muddied. Bob-o (a fearsome Peter Josephs) wants it all to himself.
Two things “Catch” does very well: the females are sharply defined, not at all hangers-on (Sharon Clark, Melanie Chapman and J. Allison Foust make sure of that); Jacobelly toys with no less than four alternate climaxes (three of them outrageously paranoid) that instantly get us inside Tony’s head. It’s not a nice place to be, but it’s good theater.
At 305 S. Hewitt St., Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m., until Dec. 12. $6; (213) 680-1068.
‘Other Five Percent’ at the Powerhouse
Even if you suspend your disbelief at the door of the Powerhouse, you still may not believe the play going on inside--Bryan Goluboff’s “The Other Five Percent.”
It’s fanciful enough that Goluboff sets up naive, suburban teen Amy (Jennifer Trinker, a tad mature for a teen) as being so lost in New York City on Halloween that she’s in the uninhabited meat-packing district, yet so lucky that she runs into nice, gregarious Hughie (Sean Gavigan). She seems to warm up to him, but misunderstands his friendliness and runs for protection (in this neighborhood?)
Sure enough, she finds a cop (Doug Hutchison), who, incredibly, knows Hughie from his halcyon high school days. Hutchison has a gun, and Hughie is wearing a skeleton costume, so we know where this is going. We just can’t believe that it got this far. Hutchison revs up his actor’s engine under Gwenn Victor’s direction, but it looks like an exercise in a play that needs rethinking.
At 3116 2nd St., Santa Monica, Thursdays through Sundays, 8 p.m., until Dec. 9. $10; (213) 466-1767.
‘Yankee Wives’ at Two Roads Theatre
Playwright David Rimmer needs to do a reality check with his serio-comic “Yankee Wives,” at Two Roads Theatre.
First presented at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre in 1982, “Yankee Wives” has reportedly been rewritten. But despite this, and despite the play’s time frame (10 years hence, then the present), Rimmer’s new draft doesn’t mention the decade’s most important Yankee: George Steinbrenner. A key man for any Yankee wife.
A play like this needs those touches of reality to keep it from flying off into the melodramatic la-la land where so many baseball dramas go. Sure enough, that’s the destiny of Rimmer’s play, and it’s the final indicator that “Yankee Wives” deeply suffers from a strong sense that this is writing not from observation, but from a desire for a commercial hit.
Mark York’s staging unwisely stresses this, so that when cute buddy wives Connie and Ronnie (perky Kathy Griffin and Terri Girvin) are on, it’s the old comic relief shtick. Then, when the sturm hits the drang , and self-appointed Wives’ manager Sally (a weak Shannon Eubanks) must confront either rival Marceline (a smooth Cyndi James Gossett) or rule-breaking Pam (Mary McDonough, never credible as an ex-swimming champ), it’s soap opera without the commercial breaks.
The breath of fresh air here is Sarah Trigger’s Wyla, too young to know what to do with her rookie husband’s incredible stardom and too guileless to conceal it. But Rimmer’s contrived tragic ending forces Trigger and her team to navigate in emotionally impossible waters after what’s been a generally light comedy. On or off the field, a poor era for the Yankees.
At 4348 Tujunga Blvd., Studio City, Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 2 p.m., until Dec. 16. $12; (818) 766-9381.
‘Gallows Humor’ Fails to Live Up to Title
Absurdist comedy is dangerous business, which is why when it works, it is an aesthetic earthquake. When it doesn’t, the show is turned to rubble.
Why director Jerry Beal’s revival of Jack Richardson’s “Gallows Humor” doesn’t work at Theatre 40 is only superficially because it doesn’t live up to its title. More importantly, it’s not a play at all, but a construct for Richardson to drive some points home via stick characters as mouthpieces.
In the first half, the warden (Gene Ross) upsets the soon-to-be-hanged Walter (Jack Gregory) and his orderly world with a surprise guest (the wooden Lorraine Michaels). In the second half, Ross’ warden upsets the domestic stasis of his executioner’s household (Gregory and wife Michaels). Beyond some thinly veiled misogyny, Richardson wants us to see the hanger and hangee as mirrors of each other.
The scheme is as dry as the writing. The wife complains, “Your kiss would mean that I would have to breathe through my nose for its duration.” Everyone talks in the same complex, compound sentences, as if George Santayana tried his hand at dialogue. Warden, let us out of here.
And since this is one of Theater 40’s low-budget shows, Beal had to fit things onto the set of the bigger-budget “Losing It in Cross Plains,” which includes an overhead tree branch. Rather than lose the branch, Beal lets it jut into the prison cell space.
At 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills High School, Mondays through Wednesdays, 8 p.m., until Dec. 12. $10; (213) 466-1767.