Saturday, February 9, 2013

Benched by Richard Broadhurst

Up front - Eddie Jones and John Towey

By Joe Straw

Last week, I ventured into the Noho Arts District to see a Los Angeles premier. This section of North Hollywood is particularly busy with very little parking and when traveling out to North Hollywood one has to pay attention - finding a place to park.  Parking is at a premium here.  You just have to make do.  We cheated, slightly.  (I shall not go into details.)

As we got out of the car it started to rain.  And with the rain came the cold wind that most southern Californians do not find agreeable to their well-being.   So with parking almost two blocks away, and in the wind and the rain we briskly walked two blocks to the theatre.  Through the tall storefront windows of this venue we saw two women.

Comedy & Tragedy

We entered the iron gates that featured comedy and tragedy masks and tapped on the window.

“We’re not letting in yet.”  she said sticking her head between the crack of the open door.

“But it’s raining and cold.” And it came out so pathetic I sounded like a character, in misery, from a Charles Dickens novel.

She sneered or smiled, (having difficulty seeing with rain spots on my glasses), slammed the door, and instructed another woman to gather her things.  That woman picked up papers and hustle them off somewhere. And then the woman, in charge of the door, came back and kindly allowed us to come in out of the torrential rains (a sprinkle) and blustering winds (a small cold breeze).  Life is a series of semantics.

Interact Theatre Company presents the Los Angeles premier of Benched written by Richard Broadhurst and directed by Anita Khanzadian at the Avery Schreiber Theatre in the Noho Arts District.

“Oh, life could be a dream (sh-boom)
If I could take you up in paradise up above (sh-boom)
If you would tell me I'm the only one that you love
Life could be a dream, sweetheart”

The play starts with a rendition of “Life is But a Dream, Sweetheart” in bells and then rolls into Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” with Joel Daavid’s Set Design clearly telling us that we are in the heart of Central Park in New York City. 

The light opens with Randall (John Towey) taking up the whole bench on a beautiful morning.  Randall has the appearance of being a homeless man or a man with only the clothes on his back to keep him company. 

And there Randall sleeps, on a park bench when he is confronted by Max (Eddie Jones), a grumpy old man, brown bagging a small lunch.   

Max appears slightly older, a curmudgeon, who only wants his place with an infinitely wonderful view from his bench.   Randall tells him that it is a public bench but he is welcomed to sit with him and have a lovely chat.  

But, Max is not agreeable to sitting; in fact he is not agreeable to any sort of compromise.  He only wants to sit at this bench and eat his lunch.

“I’m going to take a walk.  When I come back, you be gone.” - Max

Max leaves his lunch and Randall, looking like he hasn’t eaten in years, opens the brown paper bag, unwraps the foil around the sandwich, takes it into his two fingers, and drops it into his mouth, devilishly smiling with an unearthly delight.  

Later Max comes back to find his lunch eaten and Randall dead on the bench.  Dead or close to dead Max calls for help and tries to resuscitate with CPR and almost a mouth to mouth before being repulsed by the thought of his lips on another man’s orifice.  

Suddenly, Randall wakes as if asleep from a nice pleasant sleep.  Max, in a state of confusion, says he put enough pills in the sandwich to kill a man.

Randall knows all about Max.  That Max was trying to commit suicide and Randall, personally, doesn’t think that is a good idea.  Randall confesses to being an Angel of Death, with a mother.  

But, Randall tells Max that he will not go to heaven if he commits suicide.  Randall fills Max in on his own backstory, that he killed himself jumping off a cliff.  And even though it is his day off, he is working today to get back into God’s good graces to earn special privileges.

Max is still bent on killing himself and doesn’t think much of Randall’s persuasive argument. He gives Randall one hour to make him change his mind.

Randall sends Katherine Marie (Kelly Lohman) to help change his mind. Katherine Marie is the granddaughter of Max’s first love, also named Katherine Marie. Katherine tells Max that her grandfather owned all of Watertown, Connecticut and that her grandmother organized dances in the church basement. She enlightens Max to the fact that her grandmother always spoke about him. Closer they become until Katherine asks Max to dance with her.

“You’re a lucky man to have known that kind of love.” – Katherine Marie

Still, hardhearted Max is not convinced and more work needs to be done.

Richard Broadhurst has written a very enjoyable play.  It’s a long one act broken into two parts, probably because concessions is a part of keeping the theatre a thriving entity. Still, I enjoyed the night, the play, and the actors in the play. 

But, Benched is a play that I’ve seen before in other mediums and writings. It’s a Wonderful Life, Our Town, and other plays to name a few. Still, one comes away from this show feeling good, similar to the feelings one gets when taking a nice and pleasant journey.

There is some marvelous work from actors who have been around for a while, still working on their craft.  And while not everything went smoothly this night they forged ahead with a remarkable concentration.

Eddie Jones plays Max, a man ready to pull down the curtains, to give it up, on a very beautiful day in the park. He plans everything so well up to the irrefrangible law that says: this is my bench.  Unfortunately with the bench being occupied all plans are disrupted until the other man leaves. Jones, strong in voice, does a very fine job and it is marvelous to see his craft.

John Towey is Randall has a remarkable presence on stage and has very strong voice. As the character he tries his best to convince Max not to do the deed.  He truly thinks on stage, taking every conceivable moment to reach his objective. He has a secret that he can’t give away.  But, there is a sense of urgency missing that would only add to a very delightful performance. After all, he only has one hour, and he fails 98 percent of the time.

L to R Eddie Jones, Kelly Lohman 

Kelly Lohman does a very nice job as Katherine Marie. She has a wonderful time on stage creating a relationship with both men. There was this very mystical moment that caught my heart, a moment so enduring, that it takes your breath away. Lohman is just terrific.

Matt Fowler rounds out the cast playing a mysterious young man and does a fine job. (I can’t give this away because it may spoil thing for the curious theatregoer.)  

Other members of the cast on stand by were Brian Vestal as the young man and Sara J. Stuckey as Katherine.

Anita Khanzadian, the director, does a nice job but there is this sense of urgency that is missing.  The characters have one hour and the emotional commitment to that hour must be supreme. I don’t remember that moment which emotionally and completely transforms the character and convinces the character that he has changed his mind.  And that emotion works both ways.  For example that moment when Max changes and that moment when Randall loses all hope of ever convincing Max.

Nicely produced by Alan Naggar.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Lighting Design - Carol Doehring
Costume Design – Meagan Evers
Graphic Design – Rick Friesen
Sound Consultant – Ron Klier
Choreography – Tracy Powell
Publicist – Nora Feldman
Assoc. Producer/Box Office Mgr. – Marcy Capoferri
Lead Carpenter – Kyle Wilson
Scenic Painter  - Marine Walton
Stage Manager – Ari Radousky

Run and take a friend that loves and misses his or her grandparents.



Avery Schreiber Theatre
11050 Magnolia Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA  91601

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