"I'm smarter than most people. That's why I'm unemployed and living in a one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood."
So says the protagonist of "The Twilight of Schlomo" at the Elephant Space, and there's more than just sardonic humor in that assessment. Timothy McNeil's maturation into one of our most original playwrights continues with this compelling study of a former stand-up comic at the crossroads, possibly his best work yet.
We initially meet Richard (the excellent Jonathan Goldstein) trying out material that veers unnervingly near Lenny Bruce territory. Turns out this boozing, bong-embracing, stripper-fancying hangdog hasn't been near a microphone in ages, for reasons that McNeil deftly reveals in layered dialogue that feels slice-of-life authentic yet imaginatively sculpted.
Certainly, exotic dancer Galina (Vera Cherny, alternating with Kelly Hill), Richard's current squeeze, has more going on than is first apparent. So does would-be Judaic convert RFK (Lilan Bowden, a find), the just-barely stepdaughter who shows up out of the blue with a secret.
And Richard's Texas-émigré neighbors Jackson (Danny Parker) and Lydia (the affecting Nikki McCauley) pull the narrative crux of "Schlomo" into vivid, edge-of-your-seat focus.
Few directors are as perceptively simpatico with this author's intent as David Fofi, who pulls his estimable cast into taut seriocomic cohesion. Designs are fine, particularly Matt Richter and Peter Bayne's well judged sound, but it's finally all about McNeil, who is atop his game.
The climactic turn of Richard and Lydia could be slightly better foreshadowed in the direction and the writing, and this story screams for a synoptic stand-up epilogue. These are quibbles, because "The Twilight of Schlomo" is decidedly remarkable. Industry scouts and adventurous audiences should book tickets immediately.
"The Twilight of Schlomo," The Elephant Space, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Ends Feb. 9. $25. (323) 960-4442 or www.ElephantTheatre.org. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.