Monday, July 21, 2014

“The Way You Look Tonight” is a Ménage of Laughs by M.R. Hunter

Emmy Award-winning writer Peter Lefcourt's world premiere stirs up romantic relations between a pair of divorcees rekindling their passions, much to the surprise of themselves and their oblivious partners. Light-hearted, sometimes saucy and farcical, the humor doesn't always manage to override the unbelievable plot twists, but most of the pleasure is in the ride itself.

Imaginatively directed by Terri Hanauer, this quatuor or unlikely foursome accompanied by a narrator, "call him Ishmael," are a contrast of opposites, which of course lends to the comedy. The characters come with enough baggage to illicit a few good chuckles based solely on their caricature qualities one finds in successful sitcoms. Lefcourt takes great pains to setup the wild romp when the exes agree to a dinner while showing off their newly minted arm candy trophies.

An awkward situation to be sure, but Lefcourt takes it up a notch when ex-hubby Teddy, a former womanizing gynecologist introduces his British inamorata(o) Robyn dressed in chic drag. The shock of meeting a handsome woman is too much for ex-wife, Esme, even though her Hollywood producer second husband, Bernard, finds the situation lucrative for a reality show. From there, the plot predictably twists and turns with Robyn and Esme developing a sincere friendship, all the while she is swept up in a sexual tryst with Teddy at cheap, tawdry motels.

It's the typical nightmare scenario played out in good humor and funny bits, but the play overstays its charming premise with two long acts and an intermission. Shorter and sweeter would've made this a far more successful diversion. Lefcourt aimed a bit too high and loosened the slack of his writing reins. The setups are as formulaic as the storyline which has shades of La Cage aux Folles, Dinner With Friends, and as much zing and zip as a Tuesday filler sitcom. There's a greedy temptation to develop and include more in the theater than what would be permitted in a costly network show and while there's much to be said in favor of more on stage, playwrights should consider whether or not the premise can support or require a full two hours. These kinds of comedies actually fall into the KISS method approach. Keep it simple and short.

The cast does much to encourage laughs and the audience's attention when the conflict pales. John Marzilli and Sean Smith are the hapless victims of their significant others finding familiarity in the boudoir with each other than with their current paramours. There's a good degree of sympathy for them as they discover their beloveds' sexting and revealing photos by accident. It's funny because it's so ridiculous and over-the-top, but Lefcourt creates such likeable victims to make the end not only bittersweet but slightly distasteful. There's no epiphany or insight. At the center of the action and motivations lie betrayal, selfishness and disregard for another's feelings. The conclusion is pitiful. Why am I not laughing? The question rather, is why would I?

Robb Derringer gives his role Teddy a seductive swagger with his chiseled good looks and soap opera charisma. Robin Riker as Esme flutters about, stews in her own insecure juices of a woman at the last depot of desire but the role doesn't lend enough for any real depth. She's written as a victim of circumstance and her loins. Truly, the best scenes are shared by her and Smith in the bathroom and out shopping for shoes, Fluevogs to be exact. Other than the brand sounding kind of amusing, it doesn't add much to the play. The sisterhood between these characters though is heartening and sweet. A little more bitchiness between them might have resolved the ick factor when the truth comes out in another predictable dinner out with the exes.

Blake Silver as Ishmael, aka the Narrator, is an unnecessary and convenient plot device way below Lefcourt's abilities. He adds nothing except requisite exposition. It's a lazy character and Silver, to his credit, is affable and keeps the pace moving but there isn't anything to really sink his teeth into except some sight gags as a French server and his changing the set pieces.

The mid-summer temperatures haven't been hot enough for me to encourage seeing this just for the air conditioning alone (only if there's a sudden heat wave, then yes, why the heck not?) The play has its moments and it isn't intolerable. Kind of like an in-flight movie. You enjoy it because it's the only game in town. Luckily, there are other shows I would point people to, like "Lear" at Theatricum Botanicum or the Independent Shakespeare Company in Griffith Park. When it gets really warm, go see this to cool off and have a ménage of laughs. That's 3 total.

"The Way You Look Tonight"
Runs through August 24
Thurs, Fri & Sat @ 8 p.m.
Sundays @ 3 p.m.
Odyssey Theatre
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA  90025
Runs through Aug. 24
Tickets: $25-$30
PH: 323-960-7712

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