Tuesday, February 20, 2018

4Play: Sex in a Series (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

On Valentine's Day I attended the west coast premiere of a play with a witty title.  Appropriate as well.  In this case the play is also in a form I rarely enjoy, that of "total immersion."  Rarely, mostly because the production doesn't really use the idea very well. 

4Play: Sex in a Series on the other hand uses it well. The stage area (where I've seen several shows previously) didn't look so much like a stage but a bar.  Indeed a real bar, complete with bartender et al next to entrance!  One corner of the room, raised not even a foot from the floor, is elevated.  Now, given that I need to sit down, this meant I had a poor seat overall, with several people standing at high tables obscuring my view--but I heard everything, and saw quite a lot, not least because the action kept moving.

This all sounds like an example of hyper-naturalism, doesn't it?  Refreshingly, this proved not to be the case.  Theatre cannot really compete with film and television in terms of realistic detail, but far exceeds those media when it comes to using imagination.  4Play jumped back and forth through time, shifted place constantly, the cast even recognized this was indeed a play, the characters commenting on that fact!

Credit: Kelsey Risher
But that is the delightful paradox of theatre!  And such makes up the blood, flesh and bones of this fascinating performance!

Plot-wise the whole thing is the stuff of rom-coms and farce.  The Director (Graham Brown) seems to be trying to get over his Ex (Marian Frizelle), in part by some experimentation with his sexuality and also by putting together a play.  A unique theatrical "event."  The play we are watching in fact, complete with a Stage Manager (Kaitlin Large) who almost/not quite functions as a greek chorus.  His gay Best Friend (Dustyn Gulledge) is there for him, offering what advice he can--some--and support--quite a lot.

Meanwhile we also get a glimpse of a changing living situation.  A Roommate (Zoe Simpson Dean) shows a Lesbian (Ariana Anderson) the apartment she shares with an actress we will soon know as the Girlfriend (Eve Danseisen).  It seems to be working out well.  Pretty soon the Girlfriend will audition for the Director and impress him mightily, not only in terms of talent but a connection they seem to share when she reads for him. 

Credit: Kelsey Risher
That is actually one of the most clever bits in a very clever show, and ultimately one that creates some interesting conflict.  Notice how she is not identified as the Actress (there is someone like that--Kelsy Risher)?

So after a little while, the Best Friend meets and hooks up with the Best Friend's Boyfriend (Cameron J. Oro).  Perhaps you can see a pattern?  Never fear, this will all play out but some expectations relentlessly veering off in new directions. 

Others will prove quite prescient.

High on that list is how in what is/might not be a play within a play, the Girlfriend and the Director do hit it off.  She soon becomes his Girlfriend, even as the Girlfriend's two roommates hook up and become each others' girlfriends.

Don't worry that plays easier than it reads.

As things proceed, we also meet the Little Sister (Bevin Bru) and the Tequila (Kristen Racicot). More importantly, the ships involved enter stormy seas threatening to sink them all.  But here may be the most clever bit of all.  We care for them all.  We want each of the three couples to find happiness in each other, which some do and some do not--not through anything particularly dramatic but through simple/not-so-simple communication.  But--it eventually becomes clear only some of these we see are in fact people.  At least two (I would argue three) are really just characters, based on people but ultimately figments of a deliberate imagination.  Truth wins.  Deceit--even the most delicious deceit of a well-crafted story--fails, but only fails at being truth.  It succeeds in showing what not to do, oh please do not do this, not if you want that elusive thing called love.

Credit: Kelsey Risher
Now, doesn't that sound charming, and clever, and entertaining?  It is.  It even manages to be true.

Give credit also to writers Graham Brown, Nathan Daudree and Lisa Roth along with director Graham Brown.  And yeah, the Director really is the writer and the director.  For reals.

4Play: Sex in Series plays Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm until March 17, 2018 at The Actor's Company, 916 A North Formosa Ave (just south of Santa Monica Blvd), Los Angeles CA 90046.

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