Walk into any café or Starbucks on Melrose, and what do you typically see? Drones of actors sitting around tables contemplating their place in a city overwrought with creative genius. While this scenario isn't atypical by any means, neither is John Christy Ewing's drama about two post-middle aged actors who reflect on life over a cup of Joe. The acting is at times noteworthy, but the fragmented scenes, contrived characters, and overused clichés about L.A. make the show seem to drag out over a short period.
At least a captivating neon-lit sign draws attention to the Broadway café where Charlie (John Christy Ewing) and Max (Joseph Ruskin) converge to discuss the ups and downs of acting. Charlie is a cynically upbeat jokester, and Max, demure and witty, is not at all amused by Charlie's jokes. Time oscillates between the café, which is set in the present, and William Hanley's Whisper Into My Good Ear, which is set in the past. While sipping lattes, Charlie and Max complain about taking Hanley's play on the road, kibitz about life in L.A., and cajole each other into acknowledging personal triumph. In the "past" scenes, two aged characters reflect on fleeting time and past love—or lack thereof, and contemplate bleak futures. Max's character is a closeted homosexual who has forged his life—as well as letters from non-existent children—and Charlie's character admits he is still hung up on his volatile wife. The past and the present scenes work to convey a sense of personal struggle, which appears to be the main theme of the play.
Although the play-within-a-play motif seems interesting at first, it becomes more cumbersome than its worth. The psychological profiling of the characters seems contrived, and the café scenes with ringing cell phones and lattes are way too clichéd. An imbalance between the action and the dialogue also exists, as some scenes are much longer than others. The characters are bearable but not enduring, and the rotation between the past and present scenes proves more distracting than intriguing.
"At the Broadway Café With Superb & Fine," presented by the Audaciter Company at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A. Thu.-Sat. 8 pm, Sun. 3 pm. Jan. 15-Feb. 20. $20.50-25. (310) 477-2055.