Saturday, September 14, 2013

The New Situation by Carlo Allen

Joshua M. Bott - Photo by Richard Yniguez

By Joe Straw

I can’t tell you how nice it is to watch a comedy.  The previous night I witnessed countless bodies hitting the floor, thrashing in bullet-ridden agony. Fists were flying and, in one instance, women beat on a man relentlessly culminating in cutting off his…

Yes it’s nice to see a comedy!

The New Situation written and directed by Carlo Allen produced by Nora Plesent and Maria Richwine at the Promenade Playhouse is a delightful comedy where one can sit back and not worry that one person is going to do physical harm to another.  Of course there’s this thing that happens to a dog, but it’s off stage, and, it really doesn’t count. There will be no bloodshed this night, but there will be conflict, hurt feelings, and lots of laughs in this situation like comedy.

The New Situation is an anfractuous comedy that is fun for the whole family.  There is a special underlying truth of compassion between characters and their predicament and there are also tightly held secrets that carry us throughout the play.  

Francisco (Joshua M. Bott) was a former teacher, with the emphasis on former. He has just gotten his pink slip when he strolls into his home that he shares with his sister, Antonia (Susan M. Flynn).   

Antonia, a former hand model and sometimes actress, is suffering from mental depression.  She has had a hard time managing life since her double mastectomy and will not go out of the house.

And now with both out of a job and a mortgage to pay:  What are they going to do?

Luckily Antonia has Chi-Chi to keep her company. Unfortunately it’s a male plastic blow-up doll with only arms and legs as appendages.  Antonia loves to dance and is very good but Chi-Chi is a total klutz knocking over wine glasses and is also not able to stand on his own two plastic feet.  But most importantly Chi-Chi does not give her the emotional support she needs.  (And they say, “plastic is the next best thing.”)    

Francisco is the serious minded sibling.  He knows that he needs to get onto his computer, get on Craigslist, and get this household a roommate to help pay the bills. Antonio and Francisco agree there are to be no fat or ugly roommates, and no women. Just as Francisco clicks “post” on the ad, the calls start coming in.

Before the prospective roommates come into their home, Antonia and Francisco make a plan, hand signals, to indicate yes (nose), maybe (ear) no (throat) and definitely not (a combination thereof). (Those things never work but are always funny watching them not work on stage.)  

Antonia stuffs her bra with tissue before they arrive and then she runs into the other room when she hears a knock.  

Constantine (Jordan Preston) enters with his dog Vladimir but when he sees that Antonia is allergic he pushes Vladimir out the door and the dog gets killed.  Not too saddened by the event Constantine goes after the spare room. He tells them he works at LACMA, he dances, and he loves to cook.  His friends call him Connie; they may do so as well.  

While Connie is there Rudy enters looking for a room. Rudy eyes the chessboards placed in their home and says he was a champion in the Navy and offers to play Francisco who feels he is not man enough to play a “champion”, as his opponents were all seventh grade students.

Now both Connie and Rudy want the room and they don’t want to leave without having it so both start a bidding war for the rooms, and the nice neighborhood, and everything else that comes with the home.

Francisco says they have other appointments and tries to hustle them out of the house, but Connie and Rudy will not give up.  In fact, they chase other prospective renters away.

Okay, not everything went right on this particular and I have a few notes that I will gladly share.  Still the richly diverse cast did a fine job on the night I was there.

L - R Joshua M. Bott, Jordan Preston, Carlo Allen, Susan M. Flynn -  photo by Maria Richwine

Joshua M. Bott plays Francisco who is a little uncomfortable in his man skin. He is not married, doesn’t have a girlfriend or any friend for that matter, doesn’t have kids, and lives at home with his sister.  He’s middle aged. So what is wrong with this guy? What does he want? He wants his sister out of the house to pursue a glorious life so that he can get on with his life.  He can’t do this because he has been taking care of her, through her illness and through recovery. But because he’s not man enough to tell her to get out of the house the inner conflict must be “tearing him apart!” And I’m not a fan of the beard unless you’re playing Grizzly Adams or Long John Silver. Either use it or lose it. Still Bott is very funny and natural but his objective could be a bit more creative and focused.

Susan M Flynn plays Antonia, a woman who needs to get beyond her illness to live her life at its fullest.  There’s a problem in that she cannot watch the door being open.  She cannot look outside.  She seeks comfort in plastic and wine in plastic glasses.  Comedy comes from truth in human emotions and one would think fear plays an important part in this comedy.  Fear of the outside, fear of the unknown, which makes her run into the other room. And she continuously runs into the other room as though she has a bad stomach or is still on chemo. These actions need developing.  Also, Antonia needs to share.  First and foremost she needs to share her pain, and her fear with the hopes that someone will come to her rescue. And the others need to share in her emotional well being.  Flynn is very fluid on stage and a delight to watch.

Jordan Preston is an unusual Constantine.  He has lost a partner and now he starts to live with a roommate who has a lost with her disease. But the relationship does not go beyond the deep emotional connection that one get when suffering a similar fate. Once he is in, he must work harder to solidify the relationship. Preston is funny but can go a lot father in developing a relationship with his female dance partner.

Carlo Allen plays Rudy.  He also directed and wrote this delightful play.  Many hats were worn on this night and Allen is an experienced professional. Still I think his performance deserves a second eye to see the physical actions ring true.  First of all, Rudy keeps looking at his phone without purpose and it comes off as him being bored with what is going on, on stage.  Take the phone and be excited by your match on, the next date or whatever. Celebrate when you win and commiserate when the photograph is horrid. Right now it’s looking like you’re scrolling through Facebook post or twitter feeds without consequences and that takes you to actions that lead you astray.  Also, Rudy challenges Francisco’s manhood and we need to have a lot more of this, with the chessboard, with women, everything because we find out a lot of untruthful things about Rudy’s character.  Also, the 4-hour scene, Rudy is pleading for help and no one takes the action to help. Still, Allen has a good tan look and I enjoyed his performance.   

There is a lot to like about Carlo Allen’s play.  Once the actors get a little more comfortable with each other and the space the play should move along magnificently. There is a lot of warmth in this play. The characters, though no fault of their own, have fallen on hard times and are in a predicament.  The solution is they need to come together and help each other.  A little more precision and everything should work out just fine.

Wonderfully produced by Nora Plesent and Maria Richwine.

The other members of this crew are:

Kimberly Jürgen – Production Manager/Casting Director
Lauren Tyni – Stage Manager/Sound and Lighting Engineer
Argent Lloyd – Set Construction
Elizabeth Allen – Set/Graphic Designer
Phillip Sokoloff - Publicity

Run!  And take someone who has suffered a loss.  Both of you will come out loving each other a little bit more.  

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