Modern Love

To the layperson, Hollywood typically conjures up glamorous images of beautiful people enjoying lives of opulent leisure. To those in the know, it's quite often a shadowy world populated by the disingenuous and self-serving. Drawing upon his background as a rock-music journalist and entertainment publicist, playwright Anthony Mora offers a world-premiere glimpse behind the scenes.

Mora's protagonist, Jack Starling, is a midlevel producer-director whose career and personal life collide head-on as he attempts to complete a film titled Modern Love. Starling's Oscar-winning ingénue, Jillian, has walked off the project. In a rags-to-riches turn, he replaces her with Sharon, the assistant to his office secretary, whose life mysteriously parallels the fictitious character she is to play in the film. Jack's relationship with Sharon threatens his personal life and his standing with his micromanaging boss, Carla. Though hardly uplifting, Mora's story forgoes a cheery ending, providing instead a chillingly realistic version of how this uncaring business usually operates.

Mora's script, with its filmic structure of multiple scenes set in widely divergent locales, suffers because of director Chelsea Sutton's laxity. Scene changes occur at the speed of an uphill snail race despite a blessedly minimalistic set. Rebecca Bonebrake's lighting design is either glaring or dim, the latter leaving actors playing some scenes as though by flashlight.

And then there is the rather inconsistent cast Sutton has assembled. To their credit and our relief, Laura McLauchlin as Sharon and Richard Rossi, in the role of a barhopping street preacher Jack encounters, kick-start the proceedings back to life at every turn. McLauchlin's expressions of initial joy and ultimate despair are genuine and gripping. Rossi provides a perfect mix of levity and weight. Their respective scenes with Rico Simonini, playing Jack, elevate his work to a level that inspires great empathy for Jack's predicament. Unfortunately, those scenes involving Ann Convery as Carla and Aubrie Wienholt as Jillian are agonizingly protracted. Their repeated pauses seem borne of hesitancy instead of dramatic choice, a condition that fails to serve this otherwise curiously engaging production.

Presented by and at the Sidewalk Studio Theatre,

4150 W. Riverside Dr., Burbank.

Jan. 16–Feb. 21. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.

(818) 558-5702 or Sidewalk Studio Theatre.