Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Years To The Day by Allen Barton

By Joe Straw

“There’s a story going around Hollywood and it’s probably an old story about two A-list actors in a film, on the set, on for first day of principal photography.  And on that day, one actor goes completely overboard, working on a character that he has completely fleshed out.  It is a dramatic physical combination of moving head, lips, shoulders, arms, hand, and legs swaying to (I suppose) an imaginary beat in his head.

“Oh, we’re doing that kind of acting.” the other actor said.  

Skylight Theatre Company presents The World Premiere of Years To The Day – written by Allen Barton and directed by Joel Polis.

I have actually been looking for a play like this.  With a small set, designed by Jeff McLaughlin, an impalpable grayness smacked center stage.  A play featuring actors who fill the spaces with all they have to give with no unnecessary distractions.  A play in all its glory, featuring two actors going toe-to-toe, mano a mano, giving us life’s coruscations, all for the sake of a single objective.    

Allen Barton’s cleverly written play is, in my imagination, David Mamet meets Bret Easton Ellis. There is dialogue fit for massive adult human consumption, never a dull moment, and with rich manly characters that don’t hold back on delicious adult banter, which by the way, tears each other’s heart out without even realizing what they are doing.  It is a marvelous ride.

Still, I have notes and those notes will come later.

My perception is: There is a bad guy here.  His name is Dan (Michael Yavnieli) and can best be described as an opinionated blow hard with a nice suit and polished buckled black shoes. A man who, by all appearance, has everything. The tie is off for now, probably because of his high blood pressure and his inability to effectively control his temper.  And something in his red-faced diatribe of his man-speak may have been funny in his younger days but grows tiresome today.

Dan has decided to meet up with his college roommate/friend, Jeff (Jeff LeBeau), because they have not had seen each other for four years to the day. But rather than greet him, Dan is busy on his smart phone and not even taking a moment to look up.

“There he is!” – Dan

“Here I am!” – Jeff

“What’s going on?” – Dan

“How’s it going? (not answering)  You’re technoring me bro.” – Jeff

Okay, so you get a slight taste of the dialogue and this continues for quite some time before we get into some real serious moments. But these guys didn’t come for those cocktail moments, they want the façade to drop, and they want answers to two specific questions on this particular day, the real reason for their meeting.

There’s only one problem, neither one of them can effectively break down the man barrier and ask the question. They hem and haw and beat around the bush with man-speak as the incessant chatter continues without getting to the main point.  

While we are at it, to touch all bases, why not throw in life changes, children, divorce, heart attack, movies, and political commentary.  These details are all important but not the reason that these two decided to show up today.

Enough to get a feel for the man you thought was your best friend, a bastion of conservative causes talking volubly, not listening, and barely reacting when hearing significant tidbits of information.   

Dan is pathetically mendacious as well.  He arrives at the meeting incased in a lie. He’s unable to lay the chips on the table and battle Jeff, the quintessential liberal being, who is also hiding a dramatic secret.

“You’re mind is mush.” – Dan

“You’re dark.” – Jeff

There’s something here they are not talking about.  Will somebody please get to the heart of the matter!  They can sit there in the coffee shop with hands over their face sobbing de profundis, but not finding a way out of their predicament or even searching for help from the other. (Wait a minute, they do, but neither is talking.)  

There are a lot of marvelous things in Allen Barton’s play.  Caught within the confines of a dingy coffee shop, there is definitely a mood of repugnance; a mental suffering that comes at an awakening of sorts from men reaching the hump of their 40-year-old lives.  

Still each character wants a truth, it’s the reason the characters stay for as long as they do.  But, they sit having a scornful disregard of the other, sitting across, doing nothing, sipping coffee, and letting moments go in the way that loving humans let important moments get away.  And oh, isn’t that perspective just pathetic.   

The dialogue, the man-speak, that draws us to the edge of our seats, also takes us back down, with references to “East Berlin”, “one-quarter-white El Presidente”, “12th year of his term”.  Where the heck are we, Cheko-la-slavia-venen-za-whoola?  And what year is this?  And when did our constitution suddenly change?

I’m not sure I completely got this part of the play but I found it fascinating nevertheless. It appears to be a confused snapshot of dialogue from two individuals who are not thinking clearly on this particular day and revert back to their earlier man-speak days.  (I don’t think this worked but maybe with a little more specifics in mind, it could.)

Also, one was more successful than the other but a little backstory of their current lives would be nice, lawyer, doctor, writer, actor, etc.,

Joel Polis, the director, did a fine job.  The actors have a nice entrance.  The ending is spectacular.  But there are minor things that could have happened but didn’t or things that did happen but with no consequence. In the end, we know more about the characters but the characters, and the audience, got no emotional satisfaction from their meeting. Both characters did not get what they came for and neither really went after the information they wanted.  If, their objective is the one thing, why didn’t they get it?

I loved the direction and the set. But placing the table off center stage would give us a visual that something is amiss and even having one chair larger than the other would also add to a distorted visual.  Before the characters appear, we get a hint of an uneasiness, a distortion, a blend that will add to the through line and carry on through the lives of the characters.

The battle has not been won.  There is more work to do and more positions to be gained. The characters must fight for their space around the table be it physical, mental, or emotional.  They must fight for their perspective and hold ground for what will surely be an onslaught to come.      

Jeff LeBeau plays Jeff, a left leaning die-hard liberal, who pays to watch movies twice. He saunters in with his tan-leather man-bag.  His counterpart knows him for a number of years but he’s not very eager to see him.  His objective is to get an answer to his question and he goes to great links to get it, possibly divulging a secret to get what he wants.  There is an action on stage of eating the paper, which I didn’t get and his counterpart didn’t respond.  Maybe it is a nervous response, something he needs to do in order not to kill his friend. Also, more compassionate of the two, he offers little in the way of solicitude, and shows less little physical compassion, only showing a somber thoughtfulness, slightly hidden behind his nice glasses. Still, LeBeau does a lot of nice work.

Michael Yavnieli plays Dan. It is hard to be sympathetic to a person who is constantly on the hunt with ammunition of his own choosing.  It’s not only his counterpart, but also how he feels about the woman walking her small dog, his wife, his mother and father.  His plan is always his game plan, but nobody wants to play in his game. People who let him speak surround him but there is nothing in listening to that spirit of a man who has nothing to say.  He was sitting across the table from a man whose face he could not see, emotions he could not feel, and wanting information but not knowing how to get it.  This all makes for an interesting character but what is needed is a dramatic catharsis.

Curiosity is the key for both actors.  Each can be systematically incurious and be mysterious, at times, but each must doggedly pursue a strong dramatic objective to satisfactorily come to a resolution.  

Gary Grossman is the Producer and Artistic Director.

Jeff McLaughlin was responsible for the Set and Lighting Design.

Christopher Moscatiello is the Sound Designer.

Robert R. Ryel is the Production Stage Manager.

Run!  And take a “friend” you haven’t seen in four years.

Reservations:  702-582-8587

Beverly Hills Playhouse
254 South Robertson Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 

No comments:

Post a Comment