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LA Theater Review


So many of us have a friend we care about who jokes about everything. Tragedy ensues around them, and they crack wise. Once or twice, it's amusing or perhaps even comforting—for them and for us. But if it is a perpetual habit, we find it annoying at best, and at worst we lose our interest in listening. It's time to move on to people we can stand being around.

Elliot Shoenman's world-premiere script centers on a mother and her two grown children following the suicide of the family's math-professor father. The script's drama deals intelligently with the family dynamics and heartache, and the comedy is occasionally funny, but the two don't meld well.

The widow Julie, she of the unceasing quippiness, is played by Annie Potts as round-shouldered but sturdy, tired but energized by the needs of merely carrying on, and yet the script hints at a serious illness. Potts' voice can be heard but it sounds strained, not unlike her character's incessant joking, and occasionally turns shrill. The new man in Julie's life is played by Michael Mantell as a too-patient hanger-on who might be sticking around for an insurance payout or who may be covering for legal malpractice. Daniel Taylor plays Julie's son; the kid is a mess and apparently was before his father's death, so Taylor has little to work with except to try to play at "normalcy" while at the family home. As Julie's daughter, Meredith Bishop brings truthfulness to the stage, using the daughter's career success as distant subtext and playing the failed and failing relationship foremost. Mark L. Taylor directs this smoothly staged piece, aided by projections of scene-setting locales (designed by Adam Flemming).

Julie's all-deprecating humor might not have been the cause of her husband's suicide, but that thought crosses the viewer's mind more than once. Yes, many of us know people like her. Or we behave this way. The most value this play may offer is to let us know it's time to stop.

Presented by Linda Toliver and Gary Guidinger at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A. Feb. 4–Mar. 13. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (310) 477-2055.

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