It's rare to find a larger discrepancy between the quality of an idea and its execution than this live echo back to the once-popular adolescent "Choose Your Own Adventure" paperback series. Playwright Chris Econn's concept, which uses technology (via personal digital assistants) and audience participation to dictate the play that will be presented, is ingenious. The play, however -- or much of the 90 minutes out of the possible five hours of material shown opening night -- is dull, rarely funny, sloppily directed, and plagued by uneven acting.
First the good news: Audience members are presented with a PDA, which they take to their seat and place in a special holder fashioned out of empty candy boxes (snack packaging dominates Maureen Weiss' lighthearted set design). The play begins with an introduction to You (Tyler Poelle), a college graduate who, without a job or direction in life, returns home to live with Mom (Ida Darvish, who, like most of the cast, tackles a few roles). After the protagonist goes to a psychiatrist, Dr. Ellison (Mark Engelhardt), who suggests You go on medication, the MC (Andrew Koenig) asks viewers to retrieve the PDA and vote on two options: take the medication or not. The votes are tallied and the MC announces the results. The MC calls for votes a few more times until the hour-plus story ends. Following intermission, You returns to the doctor, and the process begins again.
The voting is exciting and creates camaraderie among the audience, but it happens too infrequently. In the meantime, Econn's script can't decide if it's gentle comedy or lowbrow sketch humor -- and Ryan Dixon directs the material with an equally unsure hand. The stories seen opening night lack laugh lines, well-defined characters, and cohesiveness; the concept is the only selling point.
Koenig is a major liability as the Rod Serling-like MC, flubbing more than one-third of his lines. And Poelle is too blasé to make You interesting enough to carry the plots. The one standout performance is by Davitt Felder, who, as a maniacal cult leader in the first act, greatly increases the comic impact of the material with his sharp timing and funny, indistinguishable accent.
Econn shouldn't abandon this idea -- just his initial script.
Presented by and at the Powerhouse Theatre,
3116 Second St., Santa Monica.
Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Jun. 8-Jul. 14.
(866) 633-6246, ext. 9. www.powerhousetheatre.com.