Locked and Loaded at The Other Space

Like a vaguely annoying pop song that eventually gets under your skin until you have no choice but to get up and dance, Todd Sussman’s Locked and Loaded, now receiving its West Coast premiere, showcases the playwright’s knack for funny one-liners – for better or worse.

Sussman has appeared in many sitcoms through the years including MASH, Night Court, The Golden Girls and many more. He has taken that practical experience and applied it to his own work. Unfortunately, this play seems to follow too often the television sitcom format – endless one-liners strung together to produce one laugh after another, with very little substance linking them. A fine cast, however, manages to save this show and, in the end, it’s an enjoyable experience.

It only stands to reason that Irwin Schimmel (Paul Linke) is a television comedy writer with a terminal brain tumor. Through a support group he meets Dickie Rice (Andrew Parks), and together, they plan to end their misery by committing suicide at a posh hote, but not before they live it up with their favorite snacks, lots of alcohol, and a couple of hookers culled from the local trade paper.

The first half of the show establishes the relationship between Irwin and Dickie (again, mostly through. Just when you think it’s about to sink into the most hackneyed Borscht Belt humor for the rest of the evening, the two hookers show up, oddly even before Irwin can place a call for their services.

In saunters Catorce Martinez (Terasa Sciortino), a Latina prostitute with a heart overflowing with love, and Princess Lay-Ya (Tarina Pouncy at this performance), a black tranny with a whole lot of attitude and a foul mouth. With the four main characters in place, the play takes on an otherworldly twist in which Irwin and Dickie are forced to face their past.

If not for the excellent cast that brings these tired (not to mention clichéd) characters to vivid life, the play would suffer from total blandness. The chemistry that flows on stage is electric and the actors look like they actually enjoy playing their parts. Martinez and Pouncy liven up the plot, while Linke and Parks settle into their jokes and set-ups to produce genuine laughs

Performances at The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse through April 16. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit www.santamonicaplayhouse.com or call 310-394-9779, ext. 1.

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The Revenants West Coast Premiere

There were a few nagging questions that kept running through my mind watching The Visceral Theatre Company’s production of The Revenants: Why are there two zombies chained to a wall for the whole duration of the play? Why are there two actors without any lines chained to the wall for the whole duration of the play? And, why are there two characters written into a play with absolutely no purpose to them?

The answer to the first question is already answered in the synopsis of the program. The answer to the second and third is the same: it’s written this way. That is unfortunate. While the horror genre did originate and found its home on film, for some reason playwright Scott T. Barsotti forces his play to follow the conventions of cinema on stage. It’s an intriguing melding of genres, but fails to transcend its self-imposed limitations.

No one knows why zombies do what they do and this play wisely avoids an explanation. Instead, it focuses on the loved ones these zombies leave behind and the consequences of the catastrophe.

The play opens with a zombie apocalypse ravaging an undisclosed city. Gary (Carl Bradley Anderson), his wife Molly (Lara Fisher), his best friend Joseph (Rafael Zubizarreta Jr.) and his wife Karen (Anne Westcott) seek refuge in a basement. Within minutes, Joseph and Molly have been turned to zombies and they’ve been chained up to the wall to keep them from attacking Gary and Karen. It’s understandable that they don’t want to dispose of these walking dead – they’re married to them, after all and the play seeks to answer the question, “when does love die?” The rest of the play deals with the remaining half of each couple trying to consolidate their loss and move on towards an uncertain future.

The 90-minute play barely scratches the surface of those rich opportunities to talk about relationships, love, loss, or even redemption. Instead, it meanders through unnecessary small talk between Gary and Karen, brings up intriguing subjects about their own complex relationship that developed years before and then retreats into the horror aspect of the play. Our inner demons are far scarier and can harm others much more than any flesh and blood zombie ever can, and it seems the playwright is far too scared to tackles those metaphorical zombies.

When it finally does start to come together, the play is already approaching its end. There is a true moment of magic on stage. Gary reaches over to his zombie bride with genuine love. Molly, in a touching moment of theatricality, breaks convention and sings a sweet song to her husband. For one brief minute, there is purpose to her character, but by then it’s too late.

The cast does its best, considering the material and the production as a whole is effective, with a detailed basement set by Christine Bartsch, mood lighting by David Sousa, and eerie sound design by Ross Patel and John Santo. Dan Spurgeon’s direction could be a bit tighter, heightening some of the tension. It will be interesting to see what this theatre company can really do with a stronger script

The Revenants runs Fridays and Saturdays through March 19 at the Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center in North Hollywood. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Visit www.thevisceralcompany.com.

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