Taylor Coffman's play about 20-something relationship angst would be pleasant enough if it just had less on its mind. But the playwright doesn't seem to believe there is justification for writing a purely lighthearted and funny play about William (Alex Klein), whose ex, Beth (Amber Hamilton), leaves her husband-to-be at the altar, accidentally drives into a ditch, and calls Will for consolation, make-up sex, and more recriminations than an audience member can easily stand in two acts. What Coffman does right is twist this romantic-comedy premise, giving both characters alter egos: Elizabeth (Nina Millin) and Bill (Tod Veneman). Their shadows are somewhat amusing in their continually badmouthing Will and Beth.
But Coffman breaks our hearts by trying to be something she is not yet, and that is a playwright effectively dealing with searing emotional catharsis. Stories of Will's best friend and Beth's brother dying in a car crash or Will's mother leaving him at an early age for no particular reason do not tonally fit the work, and what little goodwill the playwright builds with some of her funnier theatrical ideas goes right out the window. Director Jon Cohn nicely incorporates props, like a puppet of Beth being unduly harsh or oversized Band-aids on her face. But by the time we get to a boxing match between Beth and Elizabeth, what was once marginally charming has turned exasperating and cloying. The humor is pushed too hard, and save for an effective crying scene from Klein near play's end, we clearly see that the skills of these young actors should remain in the comedic ring. Serious dramatic dialogue like "Today, I want this and us and myself" should be a reminder that there is no shame in concocting a light and airy love story, especially if it can be done in one fell swoop of 90 minutes or less.
Presented by Mutineer Theatre Company at the Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A. Jan. 30–Feb. 28. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (323) 960-7787. www.plays411.com/ditch.