Thursday, July 28, 2016

One of the Nice Ones (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

I've never felt so conflicted about my spoilers warning.  The fact is, spoilers on this show really would spoil the experience--at least for the first-time audience member!  Even the title...!

One of the Nice Ones (by Erik Patterson--met him afterwards, such a nice guy!) is somewhat akin to The Usual Suspects in that everyone should enjoy the surprises totally the first time.  Which is not to say this play is anything like that movie!

Or is it?

Well, certainly this play is loads and loads funnier!  In fact the very beginning seems almost like a sitcom episode.  Tracy (Rebecca Gray) is having an evaluation review from her supervisor Roger (Graham Hamilton).  They both work at a company that sells weight loss and health products, the former on the phones doing cold calls.  A very stress-full, goal-oriented environment which in comedy's grand tradition gets cranked up into overdrive.

But not into farce.  This makes for an important distinction.  Just this setting alone can offer all kinds of possibilities.  Indeed lots of scenes at least seem to be the stuff of skits on SNL.  Roger telling a rather-too-intimate anecdote to the mousy subordinate Neal (Rodney To) when Tracy comes into the break room, for example. Or Tracy, feeling frustrated amid a long unproductive day, dials it up to eleven on her next call while a fascinated/horrified Neal listens.  All good stuff!  In the right hands--and these most certainly are right hands--even asking for a sweetener can be (and is) dramatic to the point of humor.

Credit: Darrett Sanders
Yet this barely scratches the surface. Barely. Scratches.

For one thing (and the poster is something of a clue here) these folks all work at a company focused on (some might say depending upon) feelings of individual self worth.  Who after all really likes their body?  In our society?

Roger on the other hand goes on a long spiel at one point about how all that is essentially nonsense.  Caring what others think, even admitting to one's own imperfections as being imperfect--symptoms of failure in his book.  Of being a loser.  Ironic, yes?  But somehow very logical in a skewed way.

Credit: Darrett Sanders
The kind of skewed way reality and life tends to be.  But maybe, just maybe, Roger has met his match in Tracy.  Here we meet a young woman who has taken the idea of re-defining one's self to much, much further extremes.  Indeed, by Roger's standards Tracy must be the most individually powerful person he's ever met.

Except she isn't.  Or maybe she is.  Either way, you will laugh.  Because if you didn't, you'd cry.

You might cry anyway.  This play pulls that many rugs out from under the audience, in no small part due to the skills of director Chris Fields as well as the entire cast (including Tara Karsian turning in a delightful performance as a newcomer to this weird world in the last thirty minutes).  One of the delights I had in the days after watching the show proved thinking back on all the tiny clues embedded in the text and in the performances.  Sometimes I picked up on them.  Sometimes.

Credit: Darrett Sanders
And I'm honestly still trying to figure out how to react to this play's very last line.  For those who know me, this is high praise.

One of the Nice Ones plays at the Echo Theatre in Atwater Village, 3269 Casitas Ave, Los Angeles, California 90039 Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, plus Sundays at 4pm and 7pm until Sunday August 21, 2016.

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