Friday, November 27, 2009

Extinction by Gabe McKinley

by Joe Straw

Relationships can change in a fraction of a moment. The wrong word said at the precise time can put an ugly edge on a beautiful friendship or annihilate it.

Extinction written by Gabe McKinley and directed by Wayne Kasserman is a very polished and exciting production. The play is produced by Red Dog Squadron and is now playing at The Elephant Space in Hollywood in a very limited run through December 13, 2009.

There is something very interesting about this play that makes audience members want to take a step back, rewind, and hear the words again. Words, like a compliment that require to be heard again. Only these words, spoken here, have the opposite effect as they slowly drip from subconscious into the conscious.

Finn (James Roday) and Max (Michael Weston) are the best of friends. Or are they? They have what amounts to a standing date every year. This year it's in an Atlantic City hotel where they take pleasure in the excessive; to rediscover the debaucheries of drug, alcohol, and the finer points of professional members of the opposite sex.

Max, from San Diego, represents the pharmaceutical industry (the second oldest profession). He is single, well off, and excessively enjoys his own prohibited pharmaceuticals. Tonight does not seem any different as he waits for Finn to show up to get the party started, but there is a difference. Secrets ingrained in him so deep and dark they require copious amount of drink and drugs.

When Finn does show up he is hesitant about doing drugs and women and not letting us in on his reasons for his abstinence.

Max is the complete opposite and is ready to do some heavy partying for reasons that soon become apparent. Max tells Finn that his mother has died, just recently, “one week ago”. “Cancer”, Max saw it coming. “She was gone in six weeks.” Max seems non-pulsed about his mothers death, tells him not to sweat it.

Finn, standing silently, says he’s sorry but is hesitant about physically reaching out to him.
Rewind. Finn did not know anything about this? His best friend? What kind of a relationship is this?
Finn, from New York, doesn’t travel far to get to Atlantic City, New Jersey, but he is broke and tells Max he can’t afford such extravagances and he needs money to finish his doctorate. Max agrees to give Finn ten thousand dollars without blinking an eye, but with one exception, they party the weekend away.

Finn agrees to stay. Big mistake. The ten thousand dollars hangs over his head like a dark cloud and plays a significant role in their relationship throughout the night.

Finn parties, but for the moment, on his terms. He has reasons for not going all out. He tells Max he has a child coming and he is married. Also, Finn tells his best friend he recently married Susan who they both know.

Rewind. Best friend left out of the wedding ceremony? Max knew nothing about it? Had another best man? What kind of a friendship is this?

Tensions brew like a bad pot of coffee. The “revenge” file in Max and Finn’s arsenal of bad behavior is pulled to the desktop waiting for the right moment to click, or not.

Max grabs Finn’s cell phone, calls Susan and carries on a conversation about what the both of them are going to do this weekend. The call is a fake. Max forces Finn to party; Max takes his phone and walks down to the casino downstairs where he makes his ten thousand dollars and then decides to call Susan.
Some time later Max comes back up to the room with Missy (Amanda Detmer) and Victoria (Stefanie E. Frame). The partygoers have another type of relationship, somewhat professional. They hardly know each other and trust and protection is secondary to the money they will make. Victoria, nervous, tragically gets more out of this than she bargained for.

Max and Finn’s relationship reaches a breaking point and all hell breaks loose.

Weston and Roday are just fantastic! Weston is manipulative, as Roday is secretive. Their contemptuous moments sting like hot arrows. They are dramatic and entertaining, albeit sometimes uncomfortable to watch.

Detmer and Frame take these roles and breaths new life into characters that could be called cliché. Detmer is wonderfully funny and Frame is caring and sympathetic.

Gabe McKinley writes a dramatic play that takes relationships by the throat and squeezes the life out of it. Moments come crashing down like lighting bolts changing their relationship into a fragile quivering whimpering mass of human flesh.

Wonderfully produced by Breanne Mowdy with Scenic Design by Kurt Boetcher that shows us two rooms in an Atlantic City hotel. (Rooms that make you want to get out and gamble.)
Kasserman, the director, does a nice job as he sends this relationship into the depths of despair going so far as to have us wondering if they will ever get out of this hell.

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