The Mark Taper devotes its main stage this summer to short runs of new and nearly new plays. The New Theatre for Now 1997 program got off to a raucous start Wednesday night with two dark comedies, both directed by David Schweizer for every ounce of panache they contain. Schweizer has not directed a play on a large stage in Los Angeles since “The Waiting Room” back in 1994, and it is great to see him once again fill a big canvas with his athletic and quirky vision.
Kelly Stuart’s “Demonology” made its debut in an earlier version at the Padua Hills Festival in 1995. Stuart possesses an original, spiky comic voice. Her dialogue is terrific. But, even though she has filled out the play, “Demonology” still suffers from attenuation.
A tale of gender war told with horror-movie undertones, “Demonology” follows the adventures of Gina (Lola Glaudini), a sexy woman who takes a secretarial job at a corporation that sells baby formula. Gina has a baby herself, and the breast milk she expresses at the office is of enormous erotic interest to her boss DeMartini. In Rocco Sisto’s hilariously sinister hands, DeMartini metamorphoses from Gina’s master to her slave.
Unhinged by Gina’s presence and other strange goings-on, DeMartini begins to entertain odd fantasies that invade his sleek office (nicely designed by Christopher Barreca). He is visited by a demonic girl (played with admirable straight-face by Kathleen Glaudini, Lola’s half-sister) who looks exactly like little Rhoda from “The Bad Seed.”
If Gina’s eventual dominance over the chauvinists in her office takes too long to unfold, getting there is still fun. Gina can wear a tight skirt like nobody’s business, and when she bends to do her filing, she suggests several sexual possibilities all at once. In Glaudini’s winning performance, Gina sends complicit glances out into the audience as she easily short-circuits the brain waves of the men at the company. The office itself is the corporation from hell, where employees must cover their face microphones to speak privately, where doors open of their own accord and where sensors in the carpet monitor an employee’s every step. Stuart has no interest in the question of whether feminine leadership will make corporations less evil; she simply suggests that female takeover is a function of natural selection.
Schweizer fills the play’s surreal crevices with an amusing soundtrack. He favors an elevator-music version of “The Shadow of Your Smile,” which he makes ominous through repetition, and a soap-opera score that builds and builds without ever climaxing. Which is rather like the play itself.
Quincy Long’s “The Joy of Going Somewhere Definite” makes a fuller world out of its eccentric sensibility. Long’s story of three unemployed loggers who make a mess out of everything is terrifically acted from beginning to end. Schweizer invites the actors to enter their characters completely, and then collide with one another full-throttle.
The title is a bit formal for this funky parable, which offers a lesson on the monumental ineptitude and accidental grace of man. The action is overseen by a kind of puppeteer, a character called the Foley Guy (Wolfe Bowart) who works the tools of his trade from behind a table to create the sounds of the largely prop-free story.
The adventure starts when ring-leader Raymond (Gregg Henry) and his two buddies, the yes-man Merle (Frederick Coffin) and endearingly dim Junior (Matthew Glave), spy a statuesque stranger (Sisto) in their local bar. Wearing a dapper cowboy hat and tilting slightly, the stranger appears to be really out of it. What else can the loggers do but throw things at him? After that, the loggers take him outside, prop bottles on him, and shoot at them; they’re so stupid or drunk or hateful that no one notices when the stranger gets shot.
Soon enough the loggers haul the still-living and still-mute stranger to Canada, to avenge what they believe is his rejection by a heartless wife. There they encounter Marie (the gloriously ditsy Elizabeth Berridge), a gal with a broad Canadian accent who believes she has solved her messy human entanglements through her faith in God. The characters occasionally burst out into song, and a high point of the evening is a hymn Marie sings along with her peculiar protector, a bizarre and funny Susan Tyrrell, who makes the most of all three of her small roles. Composed by Peter Golub, who also plays piano onstage, the ditty goes like this: “If God above can suffer us/Then we can suffer him.”
The play suggests the ways in which we all bumble through life, causing catastrophes and saving each other, just by luck. Rather like the lives of its characters, “The Joy of Going Somewhere Definite” seems to ramble but finds an unexpected anchor by the play’s end.
* “Demonology” by Kelly Stuart and “The Joy of Going Somewhere Definite” by Quincy Long. New Theatre for Now, Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Tuesday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 2:30 p.m. Ends May 18. $29-$37. (213) 628-2772. Running time: 3 hours.
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Rocco Sisto: DeMartini
Lola Glaudini: Gina
Matthew Glave: Collins
Kathleen Glaudini: Child
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‘The Joy of Going Somewhere Definite’
Wolfe Bowart: Foley Guy
Gregg Henry: Raymond
Frederick Coffin: Merle
Matthew Glave: Junior
Susan Tyrrell: Patsy/Helene/Darlene
Rocco Sisto: The Stranger
Elizabeth Berridge: Marie
Peter Golub: Piano Man
The Mark Taper Forum presents New Theatre for Now 1997. Both plays directed by David Schweizer. Sets Christopher Barreca. Costumes Maggie Morgan. Lights Geoff Korf. Sound Jon Gottlieb. Production stage manager Mary K. Klinger.