In Timothy McNeil's world-premiere play, a mail-order wristwatch Mabel Davies decides to buy for her son's 18th birthday leads to far-reaching consequences in her theretofore repressed existence. McNeil's play, though set in modern times, feels rooted in mid-20th-century kitchen-sink dramas charting the plights of desperate housewives—such as Lola in "Come Back Little Sheba" and Amanda in "The Glass Menagerie." That this well-worn tradition holds up so well is a tribute to McNeil's incisive and deeply moving exploration of still-resonant themes. His extraordinary script is illuminated here by Lindsay Allbaugh's sharp and sensitive direction and an exquisite cast, led by radiant Bonnie McNeil as Mabel, a beacon of spiritual resilience.
Mabel puts on a surprisingly cheerful face despite the emotional disarray surrounding her, as she deals with a distant and dull working-class spouse (Tony Gatto) and an oversexed and alcoholic teenage son, Kip (Edward Tournier). As pent-up resentments between father and son escalate, Mabel's resolve is put to the test. A slowly developing telephone romance between Mabel and Joe (Timothy McNeil), a lonely watch salesman in California, provides moments of relief from her crushingly stultifying home life. Bonnie McNeil wins us over immediately with her slightly ditsy yet endearing behavior, bringing comic relief to highly tense scenes and an aura of grace that transcends Mabel's indignities. In a beautifully shaded interpretation, Timothy McNeil evokes laughter and tears as the down-on-his-luck fellow who finds a new shot at happiness. Gatto is properly contemptible as Mabel's husband, yet he projects enough human fragilities to avoid having his character become a villain. The superb Tournier likewise juggles his character's boorish behavior alongside the hurt feelings that have festered in the family, creating a compelling portrait of inner turmoil. Gina Garrison is excellent as the abandoned wife next door, who succumbs to an ill-advised affair with the tempestuous Kip. Additional fine turns are delivered by Micah Cohen, Kelly Elizabeth, and Joe Wiebe in small but important roles.
Joel Daavid's imaginative scenic design and atmospheric lighting provide the ideal ambiance for this unashamedly old-fashioned drama to cast its timeless spell.
Presented by the Elephant Theatre Company at the Elephant Space, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. May 22–June 27. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (323) 960-4410. www.elephanttheatrecompany.com.