Thursday, November 14, 2013

Breaking & Entering (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Breaking & Entering is the latest original production at Zombie Joe's in North Hollywood. Honestly I didn't quite know what to expect. For one thing, there was the startlingly well-stocked set--complete with desk as well as sofa and screen. Given the black box nature of ZJU I'm more used to minimalist sets.

The reason became clear soon enough.

W.J.Trumbull (Matthew Sklar) lives here, a recluse novelist who wrote a bestseller decades ago. Not just his home, this place is his fortress against a world that he doesn't want or like or trust or...something. Therein lives one the many mysteries. Mysteries that may (or may not) be solved by evening's end.

Trumbull is trying to listen to a baseball game, which (to his intense annoyance) includes a commentator (Jerry Chapell) who quotes him over and over. There's a small power outage. Hence enter a girl (Catherine Canipe). She, as per the title, breaks and enters into the author's home. She introduces herself as Milly Smith and demands he read her novel.

Cue the groans and laughter.

Credit: Sebastian Munoz
But...we proceed from there to something far more interesting, and only a little less funny. Trumbull predictably enough rolls his eyes, but also engages in conversation. He listens to some of what Milly has to say. Asks a couple of questions. Offers her a drink. And little secrets, confessions, possibilities begin rearing their heads. Why hasn't Trumbull written anything in fifty years? Or has he? What happened to the man's wife? Milly insists her novel tells the story of what is happening between them right now. How can that be? Meanwhile, every now and then, the sports announcers come back and tell more about what must surely be the longest baseball game in history (Jason Britt portrays the second announcer).

In effect, what we're seeing is a journey inside a human mind, complete with metaphorical commentary. This sort of thing can crash and burn real easy. Done with preciousness or self-consciousness, plays like this fail. What they need to work are actors who commit totally to the emotional truth of what happens, the moment-by-moment interplay. Given the leads recently appeared together in the delightful (but campy) Captain Dan Dixon Vs. The Moth Sluts from the 5th Dimension, one might halfway expect/suspect a similarly campy approach. Canipe and Skar never avoid the humor of their scenes, yet they remain deep inside the story, reacting not as actors but as characters. The result is something like a cross between Sleuth and Six Characters In Search of an Author. I find myself not wanting explain what that means too much. Far better for audience members to experience the reality shift for themselves.

To offer a clue, at one point I genuinely asked myself if only one of these two lead characters--the tetchy old novelist or the young fervent one--might in
Credit: Sebastian Munoz
fact be real? But if so, should one of these two be only a figment of the other's fertile imagination, what I couldn't decide was which was which? Is this a fantasy on the part of Milly, her novel as she sees it playing out? Or is a sequel by Trumbull to his long-ago best-seller, delving into the weird world of his imagination. Or, her imagination?

You know what? I'm still not sure. About any of it. But like the end of The Usual Suspects or The Turn of the Screw I'm still pondering.

Colin Mitchell wrote this play, a lovely tour-de-force of character and language which I for one enjoyed thoroughly! Sebastien Munoz directed, whose skills in that position I've watched with growing appreciation. The whole production showed more focus, as well as the energy and fun which usually go with his plays. Makes me look forward to his next directorial effort that much more. Likewise, I'll now keep an eye out for any more plays written by Mitchell!

Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601.  Performances run on Fridays & Saturdays @ 8:30pm, NOV 8 - 29.

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