Angel, the man with the noose around his neck, may be "the scum of the earth," but before he dies he wants to "connect"—to be respected and embraced. Al saves his life because he wants him to push the cart full of art objects he's salvaged from the latest civil war. Al is tired of humanity and is down to his last scruple. They join ranks in this highly original "road play" and head for the Land of the Free. But before they are allowed to cross the border to freedom, they must kill Christ. There's always a catch, and although things don't work out the way they'd like—they each receive what they need and longed for—albeit unexpectedly.
This plot has the elements of a play that could go very wrong if it were in the hands of a pretentious, unskilled playwright. Fortunately, Steve Tesich knew what he was doing and what he wanted to accomplish when he wrote On The Open Road before his untimely death at a young age several years ago. Tesich's wise and witty text is in the loving hands of a gifted cast and director. Everybody gets everything right in this production, now having its West Coast premiere at the Stella Adler Theater. It is a must for anyone who loves to witness theatrical perfection.
Matt McKenzie as Al and Michael Piscitelli as Angel are extraordinary as the two men who band together. They learn from each other—culture, identity, and compassion—and the actors are mesmerizing together as they reveal their character's worthiness. Spencer Beglarian as a diabolical Monk almost steals the play. His facial quirkiness and body English would be over the top in lesser hands. Kristina Bartlett as the Little Girl is fully committed to her small but pivotal role. Gabriel Cade as Jesus personifies purity and innocence. He speaks through his cello, and it adds immeasurably to the eloquence and elegance of the theatrical experience.
Richard Hochberg seamlessly directs with a sure hand and a touch of genius. Set design by Evan Bartoletti, lighting design by Frank R. McKown, excellent fight choreography by Brian Reynolds, and costume design by Ingrid Ferrin are all inspired. Creative sound effects and music direction go uncredited.
The only false note of the evening is the omission in the program of any biographical material or credits of the playwright. Steve Tesich left a rich body of plays and screenplays, and he won an Academy Award for his screenplay Breaking Away. He deserves recognition. I don't think Stella or Luther Adler would approve.
"On the Open Road," presented by and at the Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Oct. 14-Nov. 12. $15 (323) 960-4478.