Playwright Robert Barnett has a clever idea to begin with in his romantic comedy “Darkroom” at the Long Beach Studio Theatre.
Beth is a struggling Chicago photographer whose biggest claim to fame is her commercial pics of beef cuts for a Chicago packer. Her second biggest claim is her habit, with the exception of her first husband Jay, of picking married men for relationships.
At the beginning of Act I, Jay turns up, on the outs with the male lover for whom he left Beth, and needing a haven. Simultaneously, Peter dashes in, having left his wife and children for Beth. Will Beth’s entire past show up to haunt her?
You can see the laughs coming. Some of them even arrive.
The play’s problem is lack of focus, the obscuring of a good premise with implausible extra characters and illogical running gags that detract from Beth’s basically funny situation.
Among those gags, Beth’s barking and howling like a dog when she’s upset, and an annoying wind-up alarm clock Jay puts in the refrigerator, and which is still ringing weeks later when the fridge door is opened. Who’s been winding it? More illogic dwells beneath those high points.
Director Peter Sands accepts it all at face value and handles the style briskly, in its wild-and-woolly ‘70s manner. Sands even makes much of it funny in association with a capable cast.
Angela Eads gives Beth a frenetic, distracted air that makes the character look more real than Barnett has written her. She even manages not to look embarrassed while barking, and her sincerity is rewarded with honest laughter.
On an equally energized comic level is James Stellos as Jay, who manages his character’s camp without once falling into stereotype, except for the operatic aria and old show tunes he’s called upon to attempt.
Patrick Neil Quinn, as the very obtuse Peter, has many good moments, rising handily above a character who is scripted as flat as a pancake.
Laura Morris, in spite of the fact that too much is made of her role as Peter’s Italian-American wife Theresa, forcing attention away from the original premise and from Beth herself, gets much humor out of Theresa’s vulnerability and brashness. She even helps the viewer ignore the incorrect old country syntax with which her dialogue is riddled.
Neil Tadken is too much the overboard rube as Jay’s pseudo-cowboy lover, who has returned to fetch him. But he does have a flair for a comic line-reading and a puppy-dog warmth. Garrett Mathany has an amusing and brief (that’s a pun) appearance as a blond lifeguard Jay has lured to the apartment, who turns out to be Theresa’s cousin, and is terrified of exposure (another pun).
Bob Kokol’s Chicago flat setting looks lived in and is as realistic as Barnett’s script should have been to keep the promise of its premise.
* “Darkroom,” Long Beach Studio Theatre, 5021 Anaheim St., Long Beach. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sunday matinees, Oct. 3 & 10, 2 p.m. Ends Oct. 16. $10. (310) 494-1616. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.
Angela Eads: Beth O’Neill
James Stellos: Jay Wills
Patrick Neil Quinn: Peter Urbanski
Garrett Mathany: Anthony Pelligrini
Laura Morris: Theresa Urbanski
Neil Tadken: Wayne Hodges
A Long Beach Playhouse production of Robert Barnett’s comedy. Directed by Peter Sands. Scenic design: Bob Kokol. Lighting and sound design: Martin G. Eckmann.