Let's admit it: There's a type of voyeurism in wanting to see a play in which one of the actors has been away from the stage for a long period, instead directing other actors. Will he have picked up actorly bad habits? Will all the actors he's turned down for roles show up and mock him? Is it true that those who can't do, direct?
Possibly also drawing us to this production is the reputation of its playwright, David Rambo (There's No Place Like House, God's Man in Texas). A two-hander, the plot finds a young climatologist named Sonia at the doorstep of the scientist she idolizes, Laurence. Their motivations, emotional and scientific, are the evening's fodder.
The production is not without its frustrations. Rambo's apparent urge to present the science accurately makes for extraneous material. Directed by Art Manke, the evening flows and the actors work well together—although repeated lightings and dousings of candles distract. But whether the choice to make Sonia so full of faults lies with writer, director, or Monette Magrath, who plays her, it's an insurmountable deterrent to full enjoyment of the production. Among other things, Sonia is breathy and embarrassingly earnest—not what one hopes for in young women, or any scientist for that matter.
The production's metaphors are poetic—including the script's contrasts of heat and cold, younger and older, intellect and lust, as well as Tom Buderwitz's hacienda set, which basks in Paulie Jenkins' Southwestern sunset and moonrise.
And, yes, Andrew Barnicle, the director-turned-actor, acquits himself perfectly as Laurence. Barnicle's voice is wonderfully stageworthy; his presence is magnetic, even when playing a broken soul; and he appealingly underplays Laurence's wit and intelligence. It's nice to know that those who teach can also do.
Presented by and at Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach. Tue.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Feb. 17-Mar. 18. (949) 497-2787. www.lagunaplayhouse.com.