Sunday, March 30, 2014

L. A. Deli by Sam Bobrick

By Joe Straw

“He had mixed feelings about dying, of course. He wanted to know where he was going and what the accommodations would be like. To play it safe, he wanted to order room service early in case he arrived hungry. He was hoping for deli food, and by that, he meant real deli food, the kind he grew up eating in New York. And a nice bowl of chicken soup couldn't hurt.” 

While working for a large independent film company, I had the pleasure of meeting a number of above-the-line talent, famous and infamous.  And for some odd reason, they liked to come by my office to pick up their check.  Go figure.  

Once, a writer who I had never met, out-of-the-blue invited me to lunch at a deli in Beverly Hills.  Why anyone would want to have lunch with me is a mystery, but I reluctantly agreed.  Truth be told, I have a problem sitting next to a complete stranger, a successful writer at that, whose prosaic waste is gratified with an enormous paycheck.  

Naytheless, before I went to lunch, I thought I’d better read his script.

Reading his script was a monstrous effort.  I started losing interest somewhere, about, well, if I remember correctly, page two, and by the 109th page, I noticed my nails had started to grow long and twist. The tasty tidbits in this screenplay were as rare as malodorous white truffles.

And speaking of smells, I got wind, from the story department that the project was in turnaround. They weren’t going any further, and the possibility of a production date, pre or otherwise, were now a figment of someone’s overzealous imagination.  So it was just lunch, no commitments, but as I walked into the deli, having that information, I felt uncomfortable. 

The writer and I exchanged pleasantries and then he asked me about the script.  I said I enjoyed the read, looking at my newly clipped fingernails, and pointed out some of the good things in his screenplay.  

“So they’re going ahead with this?”

At this point, I’m having a hard time holding on to my truthful self. 

“Why is it so hot in here?” I asked.

These are uncomfortable moments because truth is a precious commodity in this business, and something I value, but not something people want.  It’s the flattery that drives the dreams that feeds the wants; I want it, you want it, he, she, it wants it – and isn’t that just grand.    

One thing about Los Angeles delis:  they give you lots of food.  There’s so much food you are obligated to feed yourself so as not to utter one morsel of truth before you suddenly find it’s time to end the meeting.    

L.A Deli by Sam Bobrick and directed by Walter Painter is now playing at the Marilyn Monroe Theatre through April 27, 2014 in West Hollywood.

Let’s not mince words.  Sam Bobrick’s new comedy is solid, lively, fast paced, and filled with so much truth it hurts. Anyone who has worked in the industry, lived and breathed the industry, or even knows someone who knows someone that enjoys the heartwarming stories of despicable characters will love this show. This is a comedy with a lot of heart, about people who have no heart.  And, isn’t that what comedy is all about?

L.A. Deli is a series of twelve sketches set in deli in Los Angeles.  Jeffery P. Eisenmann, Set Designer, has given us a set so wonderfully imagined and executed I worried it might overpower the acting on stage.

Nope.  Walter Painter, the director, keeps things lively on stage.  Painter works with six actors that are playing twenty-eight different characters.  Quickly they move in and out changing personas and or slightly changing their costumes to change characters.  Painter does yeoman’s work, keeping it all together, and magnificently moves the show from one sketch to another.  How are they going to do the deli foodstuff, with all that food? Painter makes it an obstacle easily overcome.   

The twelve sketches are tied together by the one person working in the deli, Kathleen (Gail Matthius), who puts up with the going on of all who enter and leave. But there’s something she might want to add to tie those scenes together.

I’ll get to that later.

“The Pitch”  

One can look at The Pitch a couple of different ways. David (Scott Kruse), a writer, is pitching his idea to J.B. (Phil Proctor), a movie studio boss, without the Louis B humph. David thinks he’s got a great script and, as he is pitching, J.B. proceeds to change everything.  And by the time the pitch is over, each person is telling his own story. Typically, writers say too much without getting to the substantial meat. What’s interesting about “The Pitch” is David, the writer, is saying nothing that we haven’t seen or heard a thousand times. J.B. has every right to throw out his ideas.  After all, despite the non-existent humph, he is the movie studio boss. Also, this is a very clever piece written by Bobrick who has the actors telling different stories at the same time and also having those same characters, playing out the roles, and living in different worlds.  

“The Actor & The Agent”   

Agent Ted (Jeffrey Landman), a man who will not bullsh*t anyone, is out to get a young, up and coming, slightly goofy talent, Jimmy (Scott Kruse).  Ted takes him under his wing and treats him like family because “I got to follow my heart.” But as soon as Jimmy excuses to himself to go to the bathroom, Ted calls his boss and tells him that he signed the talent hocking the old “ I’m your family” spiel.  Another agent, Stu (Phil Proctor), in the deli listening, moves in and tells Ted that Jimmy’s last three films stink, stank, stunk.  Then things suddenly change in their “family” relationship.

“The Big Lie”

The Big Lie is a sketch about Babette (Darrin Revitz) and Harry (Phil Proctor), a happily married couple.  Opps, I forgot, only one is happily married, Babette wants a divorce because Harry lied to her and that lie has destroyed their marriage.  All before the Matzo ball soup arrives.

“The Funeral”

The Funeral finds two studio people coming together to speak about their boss who has recently been laid to rest. Brian (Jeffrey Landman) and Marty (Scott Kruse) question why his earthly demise was so sudden.  “There was three minutes of applause lowering him into the ground.”  You can take that either way.  

“The Agent’s Wife”

Ginger (Darrin Revitz), the agents wife, and Paul (Scott Kruse), the writer, get together at the deli to toss around ideas for Ginger’s inane screenplay “Jane and the Beanstalk” starring Sandra Bullock or Oprah Winfrey.  Ginger has access to Sandra.  Well, they don’t actually know each other, but they go to the same place to get their teeth done. And it’s not beneath Ginger to cram the screenplay into Sandra’s bag.  For Paul it is a meeting in hell.

“The Contract”

The Contract is an interesting sketch about Lewis (Phil Proctor) who wants to get “rid” of his wife of thirty years and finds just the right person to do it, hitman Edward (Jeffrey Landman).  Love makes strange bedfellows of assassins.  Lewis explains he wants to marry his assistant, and over a tuna on rye and a cup of coffee they discuss the intricacies of the operation until something changes. Unfortunately, someone got to Edward first.

“Forever Young”

Forever Young was probably the funniest scene of the night.  It is the story of a once successful and very youthful looking actress, Debbie (Rachel Boller).  Oddly enough Debbie has a thoughtful and caring agent Michael (Jeffrey Landman). (Okay, now we’re testing credulity.)  Michael honestly tells her that she has got to stop with the plastic surgeries or they will kill her.  Her skin is pulled too tight, and her organs are not where they are supposed to be. That Debbie is not young is evident when her adult grandson Josh (Scott Kruse) greets her.  And last but not least, coming out of the bathroom is her co-star from her Lassie days, Peter (Phil Proctor). This was by far the funniest scene of the night and the timing was impeccable.   

“The X’s”

Tina (Rachel Boller) and Diane (Darrin Revitz) get together to talk about there ex-husbands and compare notes.  Unfortunately there’s been so many, some with the same names, they get all confused.  

“The Team”

Arnie (Scott Kruse) and Jerry (Jeffrey Landman) are a writing team.  Arnie is the hard worker while Jerry is the slacker and Arnie has had it. Arnie says it’s the end and this forces Jerry to get down on his hand and knees to get him to take him back. But, there’s a lesson to be learned here before you tell your partner off, before you get things off your chest.  It’s better to keep things close to home when you’re dealing with Hollywood people.  

“The Firing”

The firing is a nice sketch about an older movie boss, Tom (Phil Proctor) on his way out and being fired by his successor Nancy (Rachel Boller).  It’s not a pretty picture of age losing out to economics with a very funny twist at the end.

“After the Screening”

Sid (Jeffrey Landman) and Al (Scott Kruse) decide what they are going to do after their movie get low marks during a screening. The cards do show a hopeful sign “Worst movie ever!!!” That fact that someone wrote that means he cares.

“The Waitress”

The Waitress was another one of my favorites.  It gives Kathleen (Gail Matthius), the waitress, a chance to shine. After working a long day in the deli, she falls asleep at a table when a man, Bob (Phil Proctor), who hasn’t seen her in many years, wakes her.  He’s in town from back east, has found out where she works, and wants to see her. Bob is her former husband, who she left without so much as a goodbye to him and their two beautiful kids in search of pursuing a dream in Hollywood. When she left, she was young and beautiful, enjoyed the promise of success before everything stopped, and now she finds herself years later, alone, slinging corned beef and blintzes to obnoxious deli patrons.

There is a lot of sincerity in the work from Gail Matthius.  Kathleen is a character with a lot of heart and her reality is there’s no future for her in the entertainment business.  Still she performs her job with grand dignity.  At this point in her life the character Kathleen must be looking for her husband or her kids to come through the deli door to see her and she must regard each patron as that life to tie the twelve sketches together. But all in all, this is very good work.

Rachel Boller as Debbie in “Forever Young” does an incredible job keeping everything up and tight. It’s a very funny scene but one in which Debbie should still be strongly vying for the ingénue roles. Boller’s role in “The Firing” is right on cue and shows us her ability to completely change characters. Very nice work.

Scott Kruse does some very amusing work in seven different roles.  Each character is slightly different than the other.  The character Jimmy in “The Actors & The Agent” was one of my favorites as an insecure, green, and orphaned actor trying to find his way in the Hollywood jungle.  His attenuated body sipping on a soft drink and soaking in the flattery is like watching the lamb before the slaughter.  Kruse’s character work was exquisite.  

Jeffrey Landman also has some marvelous moments in six different roles. The characters didn’t appear to be all that different from each other but physically he fits all the roles.  Landman has a strong voice and adding another layer to his characters wouldn’t hurt. For example, the Ted character in “The Actor and & The Agent”, we need to see where his being duped is coming from, when, in his ghastly amiability; he is in actually conning the actor. Also, as Brian, in “The Funeral”, needs more of an emotional stake. Edward, in “The Contract”, should give his condolences to his counterpart before departing.  Little quibbles for work that is very fine.  

Phil Proctor is a workhorse of an actor and does an incredible job in the seven characters he portrays on stage. His work in “The Contract” and “Forever Young” is very satisfying, funny, and extremely enjoyable.

Darrin Revitz plays three roles and does some really good character work.  Babette in “The Big Lie” is a fine role but you have to wonder how smart the character is when she doesn’t know the age of her husband.  Ginger is another ditsy character in “The Agents Wife” that doesn’t really have a strong objective. And Diane in “The Xs” gives us another glimpse into the life of the absurd.  Finding the strength of these characters and their objective would only add to some very fine work.

Susan Huckle, Perry Lambert, Lyndsi Larose, David McCharen, and Matthew Wrather are alternates that I did not see perform on this night but will be performing on Friday April 11th at 8:00pm and Saturday April 12th at 3:00pm.

The reality of going into a deli in Los Angeles is that you cannot go into one without seeing someone of color, behind the counter, on the floor, sweeping, mopping, serving, etc. Not one person of color in this cast or alternates by Casting Director Michael Donovan.  It is slightly discouraging to see this in this day and age. But despite the barren aridity of color and my delicate raillery, it is still a remarkable cast giving their all.

Racquel Lehrman, Theatre Planners is the Producer and has done a fantastic job. Victoria Watson, Theatre Planners is the Associate Producer.

Michael Gend lends his voice as the Lighting Designer.

Michael Mullen is the Costume Designer.

Chris Moscatiello is responsible for the Sound Design.

Ken Werther Publicity was responsible for the Public Relations.

Natalya Zernitskaya is the Assistant Stage Manager and Liana Dillaway is the Production Stage Manager.

Richie Ferris was the Casting Assistant.

Kiff Scholl did the wonderful Graphic Design.

Lawrence Grossman was the Music Supervisor.

Run!  Run! And while you’re at it take someone who flatters you whether they mean it or not.  And then hop on over to Canter’s Deli and try their hot potato knish.

For tickets:


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