"And Heather Went Everywhere," is the theatrical equivalent of a chick flick: Five high school friends convene to scatter the ashes of a dead classmate and spend the weekend bickering and bonding.
Jonna Ivin's new comedy shows early promise toward overcoming this too-common reunion setup. But everything flounders in an uneven Act II, when not even a handful of great moments can save the play from collapsing into a sentimental heap. Perhaps this is always the way: Anticipation is more satisfying than payoff.
Here, Ivin has laid out five women who consider themselves best friends but who actually know less about one another as the years wear on. The Heather of the title was an introverted girl whom they never offered membership into their high school clique. Yet in her suicide note, Heather has asked these five to go to her family cabin in Big Bear and scatter her ashes from a mountain.
Into the mix Ivin drops Angel (Jeanne Sapienza), an exotic dancer who is the subject of a documentary by Gwen (Julie Dolan).
Gwen is apparently like that--the type who brings a homeless person to Thanksgiving dinner. Angel shocks the conservative yuppie lawyer Nan (Anneliza Scott), meets disapproval from the lesbian therapist Megan (Sally Richter) and makes a new friend in housewife and mother-of-three Julia (Arabella Chavers Julien).
As a catalyst, Angel is mildly amusing in Act I. By Act II, she is an entirely unbearable, obvious dramatic device.
She is the "outside observer"--and even says as much--who can point out what those invested in these relationships fail to see. The audience, however, doesn't need her aid, nor her pontificating, which rings painfully false. None of this is helped by a forced performance from Sapienza.
Directed by Kerry Logan on an impressive mountain cabin set (designed by Desma Murphy), "And Heather Went Everywhere" loses the art of subtlety and subtext. Julia expresses terrible boredom with her life in a typical Betty Friedan moment. Documentarian Gwen is accused of "hiding behind her camera." Sisters Nan and Cloe (played by Ivin) have a typical firstborn/baby-sister conflict, which they have to play out at length. Oh, and, there is an obligatory game of truth or dare.
Except for the speeches, Ivin has a nice way with dialogue and humor. She also gives the most solid performance of the cast as Cloe, the hard-drinking, artist-type, loser little sister. Sure, she saved some of the best wisecracking lines for herself, but she delivers.
The rest of the cast fluctuates, rising to the occasion for individual big scenes but dropping the ball in the quieter moments. And it's the quiet moments that matter. It is what Megan doesn't say to Julia--but what we all know--that is more powerful.
"And Heather Went Everywhere," Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues indefinitely. $15. (818) 769-7529. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.