West (CRITIC'S PICK!)
Using farcical overtones interlaced with inspired sections of sheer lunacy, playwright Charles Mee turns the concept of love on its head. In the hands of less-qualified artisans, the result might be just so much weirdness. Instead director Joe Jordan and his cast of 10 parlay Mee's romantic comedy into a can't-take-your-eyes-off-it theatrical outing.
A young couple arrives at his family's mountain retreat for a romantic getaway. Rather than finding the serene backdrop for his planned proposal, the couple collides head-on with his parents and their respective lovers, all of whom have arrived unbeknownst to one another. From this point on, all vestiges of sitcom plot devices fall by the wayside. This cast of characters, augmented by an additional quartet of human oddities, somersaults headlong through a philosophical examination of relationships and what havoc we humans wreak on them.
Lovebirds Jonathan and Ariel exude enchantingly wide-eyed optimism through the work of actors Joe Hendrix and Kelsey Ann Wedeen. Before all hell breaks loose, their young love quite literally erupts into a pas de deux attributed to choreographers Leanne Fonteyn and Jessie Marion. Serving as the unintentional foils to their union are Lynn Odell and the unabashedly physical Terry Tocantins as, respectively, Jonathan's mother and her French gigolo. With the arrival of Scott McKinley as Jonathan's bisexual father, Frank, and Brandon Clark, who delivers a deliciously nuanced take on Edmund, "the other man," the outrageous bickering gets under way. Providing priceless support are Ruth Silveira and Freda Nelson Evans as a pair of aging lesbians. David LM McIntyre and Kimberly Atkinson round out this collection of perfectly embodied eccentrics, respectively playing a slightly skewed local yokel and a French doctor.
Jordan pulls out all the stops, highlighting intermittent moments of surrealism set to samplings of operatic accompaniment. Topping the list is a downright hilarious door-slamming sequence. It's all so bizarrely appealing. Meanwhile, Dan Mailley's lusciously adorned scenic design, all flowing drapes and broad brushed paint strokes, serves as the ideal space for this piece's sweeping emotional extravagance.
Excerpted from ISN'T
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The masks of tragedy and comedy often serve as shorthand emblems for theater. Most modern plays are not neatly categorized as tragedies or comedies, but the two concepts still represent powerful ways of looking at the world via the stage.
Playwrights sometimes explore notions of tragedy and comedy while acknowledging the limits of classical definitions. Look at the L.A. premieres of wonderful work by two distinctive writers: Craig Lucasís Small Tragedy and Charles Meeís Wintertime.
Mee also plays with contemporary adaptations of tragedy, as City Garage demonstrated in its trilogy of his Greek plays last year, including the still-running Iphigenia. Yet he is probably better known for theatrical collages of comic elements, many of them drawn from classic sources. So far the best of this group seen in L.A. was Big Love (Pacific Resident Theatre, 2002). Anyone who was tickled by it should definitely see Wintertime.
This branch of Meeís oeuvre demands a tolerance for the unpredictably wacky. In Wintertime, the first act throws together an American woman and her French lover, her husband and his gay lover, their son and his new (female) love, two lesbian neighbors and a delivery man with surprising knowledge of the ancient Greeks. But Mee truly goes for broke after intermission, when one of the characters disappears under apparently tragic circumstances. Mee reacts by calling on several forms of comic shtick, resorting even to bare tushes as well as his customary snippets of Italian opera. The second act is what lifts this play above some of his others with similar characters, such as A Perfect Wedding and the much lesser Summertime.
I loved Wintertime in its premiere at La Jolla in 2002. Since then Iíve seen Meeís similar plays and learned how much he repeats his obsessions. But, while the rush of first love for Meeís sense of humor might have left my heart, I still had a great time at Joe Jordanís staging of Meeís wild wintry sleigh ride. It glides over the mysteries of human love, jingling all the way.