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LA Theater Review


Photo Source: Benita Elliott
There's something more patched than matched in this 2004 play by Stephen Belber, who weaves a promising but flimsy web in which rampant improbabilities and groaningly predictable plot twists overpower his poignant and often strikingly lyrical dialogue.

Tobi (Martin Head), a 62-year-old gay former dancer-choreographer living a modest, solitary life subsidized by teaching at Juilliard, is excited to be hosting a grad student arriving to interview him for her dissertation on dance. But it doesn't take long to realize Lisa (Marta Portillo) has more meaty questions to ask beyond letting Tobi ramble euphorically—in his own rather improbable spotlight—about auditioning for Balanchine, principally since she has dragged along her brooding husband, Mike (David Douglas), a cop with a weighty agenda and an epidemic case of unbridled homophobia, as Tobi twinkle-toes gleefully around his apartment.

On top of Belber's puzzling habit of veering into bizarrely unwarranted side stories, including introducing Tobi's equally passionate love for knitting and performing cunnilingus, director Kate Whitney adds another irrelevant twist: dancer Svetlana Kisiyan appearing at the beginning of both acts to perform impressive but extraneous ballet moves before entering Tobi's insular mini-world (described by his conflicted rumination "I love my life.… I regret my life.… But after a while, the hues blur and it's just my life"). Kisiyan's performance is charming, but nothing ties it to the story beyond that Tobi was a dancer, thus unintentionally accentuating that nothing quite adds up in this section of Belberland.

Portillo and Douglas do the best work, contributing striking performances that somehow overcome the play itself. This is particularly true of Douglas, who makes Mike's meteoric eleventh-hour turn from surly and furious to warm and cuddly surprisingly convincing. Head is obviously gifted but works so hard playing Tobi as such an overly effeminate queen that we lose interest in the character's plight—especially after he offers to go down on Lisa while Mike is gone. Playing Tobi this broadly is a choice Whitney should have monitored, keeping Head from hitting every one of his character's jokes with a Nathan Lane–esque sledgehammer when simply trusting his dry sense of humor would have sufficed.

Presented by City Players at the Hayworth Studio Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. Oct. 21-Dec. 10. Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.

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