Joyce Sachs' Equinox is the equivalent of a dull party that takes place in a beautiful house. What makes this two-act period piece frustrating is that its three characters were real people and most likely much more interesting than they are imagined here. Despite one strong performance and two adequate ones, and steady direction by Jules Aaron, the first act is so boring and unnecessary that it far outweighs the few intriguing moments that come near the end of Act II.
Sachs started to envision Equinox while working on a thesis about Virginia Woolf, a member of the Bloomsbury Group, a collective of artists and intellectuals who met in London in the early 20th century to discuss art, politics, and philosophy. Two members were artists and lovers: Vanessa Bell (Carolyn Hennesy) and Duncan Grant (Robert Stephenson). In 1923, Vanessa and Duncan lived in a house in Sussex, owned by Vanessa's husband, Clive. Though Duncan loved Vanessa, he had many affairs, mostly with men, including Clive. He also was friends with explorer George Mallory (Ralph Lister), who died in 1924 during his third attempt to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
All of the above is true. Where Equinox veers into fantasy is in its imagining that, on the last day of September 1923, George visits Sussex to ask Duncan to accompany him as official artist on his Everest expedition. The remainder of the play, after George's arrival, is a battle between Duncan and Vanessa to see which of them can sexually seduce George, who seems attracted to both.
Hennesy, a versatile actor, breathes a bit of life into the play by making Vanessa believable as a strong yet vulnerable woman, who enjoys her art but loves Duncan above all else. Stephenson delivers a mildly interesting performance as the arrogant Duncan, but Lister's portrayal of George is distracting. Lister accents virtually every word and bobs his head with such earnestness that he makes the climbing pioneer seem foolish and inept.
Aaron's direction is gentle. The seduction scenes are well-choreographed, and the overall tone of the second act moves with grace from sultry to somber. The brightest star in Equinox is its set, designed by Tom Buderwitz, who re-created part of the real-life Bell house using photographs as a guide. With parquet floors, a skylight, and a stone outer-wall faรงade, the stage almost becomes a cottage.
But it's not, which means visitors to this party must remain seated instead of sneaking off to see a home that looks more interesting than what occurs inside it.
Presented by and at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Dr., West L.A. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Apr. 15-May 28. (310) 477-2055.