According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Los Angeles

The city of angels falls hard as a young woman descends into LA’s shadows by way of drugs, sex, lesbianism and the inevitable unloving father figure. Who knew LA had so much in common with NYC, after all?

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Reviewed by Cait Weiss

There are a lot of things to hate about the city of Los Angeles. The smog. The traffic. The agents. I grew up there, right where with 101 and the 405 meet – and I moved to New York as soon as I could. I am no advocate for the City of Angels, believe me. Still, watching Julian Sheppard’s Los Angeles, playing at The Flea Theater, I couldn’t help but feel like I was being asked to heckle the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium – considering where we’re all seated, isn’t the attack just a little too obvious?

Los Angeles centers around Audrey, a 20-something college grad who finished school in California and, scarred by the experience, high-tails it to LA’s geographic antidote Seattle. That’s when we first meet her, fragile as a newborn swathed in an XXL sweatshirt, talking with her big-dreaming boyfriend. He needs a change, she needs a makeover – Los Angeles seems the obvious solution for both. Despite her initial misgivings about heading south to the Land of Shallowness, she gives in when he offers to “fix” her.

And here in this first scene, is the whole unraveling of the play. Los Angeles tells the story of a woman who is so eager to be fixed, she shatters herself into dust. From the Seattle table to the LA lounge, from physically attacking her boss to sleeping with a producer for $1000, Audrey is just another sucker for a savior. Sure, Drama Desk Award nominee Sheppard distracts us with speed and lesbianism, even yoga in undies, but at the core of Los Angeles, we’ve got a play about a damsel in distress. Problem is, this Los Angeles is flat out of white horses, let along knights.

Oddly enough, unalleviated suffering is the topic of a lot of enjoyable entertainment – Candide perfected the idea in literature and paved the way for all the sick/brilliant drama to follow. Sheppard’s script is full of humor, and much of it works onstage. However, Los Angeles, for all the uppers Audrey inhales, remains a bit of a downer.

Audrey, played by Katherine Waterston, never changes. She begins a mess and she ends a mess. In the very first scene of the play, Waterston is already trembling and vulnerable. By the time we get to the final act, the audience begins to wonder if all that happened in between needed to happen at all – would she have been this way regardless of all the drugs, alcohol and men we’ve just watched her consume? If so, what was the point of any of this?

Furthermore, it’s hard to watch someone “be damaged” for an hour and forty minutes. Yes, some moments she’s crying, some she’s screaming, and in one of my favorites, she’s hurtling a chair across the stage, but all those are just manifestations of The Crazy. It’s hard to sympathize with someone who seems unaffected by everything happening around her. While her level of instability is very fitting for the later scenes of the play, early on, this unflagging vulnerability makes her difficulties more inherent in her personality than responsive to the ensuing onstage action.

Unfortunately, the problems in acting are compounded by the staging. As director, Obie Award winner and Pulitzer Prize Finalist Adam Rapp makes many strong and thoughtful choices – the opening sequence, for example, where all the men dismantle and reassemble the set is wonderful – but he continually missteps by thrusting Audrey too far into the audience. Instead of giving us the distance we need to at least value the humor behind the insanity onstage, her vulnerability is almost literally shoved under our noses. Rapp has Audrey repeatedly lean on the divider between the audience seats and the stage, breaking any kind of critical distance we especially value when looking for dark humor.

Despite these few flaws, though, the show succeeds, in large part due to a strong ensemble cast, tidy scene structure and the smart, quickly paced dialogue. Sheppard succeeds the most when he says the least, placing hints as to exactly what has happened – and when the actors respond without overemphasizing their emotions, the result is great theater. Both Cooper Daniels, as the attractively creepy Keith, and Emily Hyberger, as the chill and entrancing Veronica, give wonderful performances, bringing the cleverness of the script to the forefront without taking us out of the action.

The scene between Audrey and Donna (played as disarmingly shrewd by Tanya Fischer) is an especial triumph – both Waterston and Fischer are so wrapped up in the energy of demands and desires that they let go of all the wounded hurt that sags them down. Instead of watching the distressed damsel weep in yet another turret, we get to see two smart, capable women work out how to get what they want as quickly as possible. Sure they have baggage, but they also have objectives – and that’s a nice thing to see. Even in Los Angeles.

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Flea Theater (41 White Street, between Broadway and Church)
Tickets (, 212.352.3101): $18
Performances: February 14th through March 17th, performance schedule varies.

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