Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Intimacy Effect by Jeff Tabnick

Jordana Oberman and Tim Fannon

By Joe Straw

Extended through May 13th, 2018

Appel: noun – a tap or stamp of the foot, formerly serving as a warning of one’s intent to attack, but now also used as a feint. –
Amy Appel (Toni Christopher) was crying, alone, at her dinning room table, in a cozy—more like confining—apartment. 

Tonight, the severity of her tears is astonishing. It was just a quiet gathering of family, (the gathering probably caused it) and a sense of loneliness possibly aggravated her sense of being.

Across the table from her was an empty baby’s high chair, which is probably the saddest sight known to human kind but this is not the reason for her tears, or maybe it was.

(And for the love of God, what was that noise out in the lobby of the theatre?) 

No, that’s not right. 

There was noise of people talking and it is in the hallway of Amy and Matt’s apartment building. Matt Appel (Tim Fannon) welcomes his brother, Doug Appel (Robert Bella), and his wife, Merrily Appel (Jordana Oberman), as they arrive for a visit.

Doug remarks the apartment might be 800 square feet but a somber Matt tells him that it’s only 600 square feet. A bit of downsizing here, I wonder why?

Matt instructs them to take off their shoes before walking around.

There is something offsetting in Matt’s manner on his 40th birthday, his jaw is clenched, and his head bolted upright.  It is his birthday and his wife is drawing attention to herself, yet again, and it’s really not his fault, nothing is really ever his fault, whatever that fault may be.

Anyway, Matt is cooking and doesn’t want to discuss Amy’s problem. Still he’s rather perturbed by the discussion in the dinning room as he bangs pans and dishes in the kitchen.  A diversion perhaps?

L - R Jordana Oberman, Cassidy Schiltz, Tim Fannon and Toni Christopher

And Merrily goes to the source of the problem—to Amy’s side, offers a solicitude, and then stares at everyone to get a sense of what is happening.

Baby Jesse (now two and not seen) is all right. She is with Amy’s mother, so she is not the immediate cause of concern.  There’s something else and it will come out later.  There are important adult things to discuss, so the baby needs to be out of the way.

JTK Productions presents the West Coast Premiere of Jeff Tabnick’s new drama The Intimacy Effect directed by Eric Hunicutt at The Lounge Theatre.

The Intimacy Effect by Jeff Tabnick is an exceptional night of theatre that explores the harshest moments of reality in the most intimate way.  It is a production that deserves more than one viewing, if only to catch the nuances as characters receive and dispense the information during the course of the evening.

L - R Robert Bella, Cassidy Schiltz, Tim Fannon, Jordana Oberman, Toni Christopher

Toni Christopher is outstanding as Amy Appel a woman who has an insatiable craving for one thing from her husband but is unable to find the right words to make him understand.  The conversation moves in a direction for which she will have no part in.  There is only one thing she is after and she will not let go, not tonight, and not ever.  Christopher is solid in this outing and gripping in her determination to leave no stone unturned.

Tim Fannon as Matt Appel is offbeat, living on the downbeat of life because of his temper.  His anger is a mistake and one that cost him dearly and probably the reason for downsizing in this apartment barely fit for three.  Tonight, Matt can’t face his wife, the discourse that needs to be addressed and resolved.  The odd thing is that Matt doesn’t think that he has done anything wrong and rather than talk to his wife about the problem he shifts the conversation to another significant topic one that threatens to destroy his brother’s life.  One doesn’t see much of the anger or temper in this character but rather a man that wants to move in the right direction.  The hit comes way too late and then comes off as things boys do.

There is something sinister in Robert Bella’s portrayal of Doug Appel.  Bella gives a performance that would be ideal to see more than once to gage if his reactions are sincere to the action on stage. His inner dialogue suggests a man of indecorous ferocity, a moral discontent, and one who cares little about who he hurts, whether it’s his brother or his sister-in-law, not to mention his wife. And, in the end, he seems not to care who he harms.  When the truth is presented to him, in small increments, his mendacious manner suggests he was not the slightest bit concerned.  Maybe there are better choices to be made for this character.

Jordana Oberman is wonderful as Merrily Appel.  The name Merrily suggests the person is kind and willing to go along with what the others have to offer. Merrily has the intrinsic quality of being a happy homemaker with a wonderful family and a giving husband, but little does she know.  The downside to Merrily is that she is slightly daft in not seeing the truth before her eyes and the truth keeps getting bigger and bigger until it is finally blurted out, and in black and white. That is when she finally grasps the reality of the night.  Oberman is an actor that displays a tremendous craft, and just enough nuances to keep one guessing the entire night.  It’s just terrific work.

Cassidy Schiltz plays Jennifer as a somber pregnant woman who invades the household without having any idea of knowing anyone in the room (can’t give away too much here). Jennifer is a woman who enters with a position of strength and purpose.  She should not lose that purpose but she becomes confused by the players and the outcome before she wanders off.

Jeff Tabnick’s play is fascinating starting with the last names of four of the characters, Appel, a fencing term.  And looking back at what happened it almost falls in line with what the character are doing.  The characters are constantly attacking and engaging in ways one would conceive a fencing match. But, instead of foils, their words cut deep, as all tattered personage barely survive the night.

The director Eric Hunicutt manages to showcase the actors in all of their glory.  The production is layered with intimate details, shadowy vibrations, and sideway feints to protect the least guilty.

Matt and Amy have a secret, and their inscrutable intentions are difficult to understand. What are their motives for inviting the other couple when they require a dedicated and meaningful night’s discussion about their own family?

Matt Appel doesn’t think he has a problem and wants to avoid the discussion at all costs.  So he employs a diversion.  He’s angry that he doesn’t have a significant job and he takes it out on his successful brother.  Doug must pay the price.  This seems to be the direction; the dialogue is ambiguous enough that the characters engage in hiding secrets from their significant others and used diversion tactics to steer the conversation in another direction.

The inner dialogue moments – where one character speaks while the others are frozen - works for the most part - but there are other similar moments where the non-speaking characters are not really frozen.  Those moments need to be clearly defined and performed in a way that is unique to the purpose at hand and character objectives.    

Also, the movement in dialogue, should be clearly defined in the ways the characters respond to information.  As an example, the dialogue at the table with the three at the table and Matt in the kitchen making a bunch of racket, wanting to move the infelicitous conversation in another direction.

Doug Appel is a successful lawyer on his way to securing a judgeship but his costume does not suggest that.  (Costume Design by Serena Duffin) It might have worked better to have this character in a coat and tie to give him the advantage of appearing to be the most successful of the gathering.

The Intimacy Effect gives us another reason to venture out to see intimate theatre in Los Angeles. Given the stormy vicissitudes over the course of the night the production is ambiguous enough to wonder if any of the relationships will survive. And, that is the mark of great theatre.

Michael Fitzgerald’s Set Design looked eerily familiar to The Rabbit Hole and was effective.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Jesse Baldridge – Lighting Design
Jason Whitton – Sound Design
Darren Bailey – Fight Choreographer
Schuyler Helford – Assistant Director
Mark Gokel – Stage Manager
Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio – Associate Producer

Run! Run! Run!  And take the person you most admire, with plans to speak about that person’s one little fault.

The Lounge Theatre
6201 Santa Monica Blvd.
Hollywood, CA  90038

Reservations:  800-838-3006

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