Memory plays are a tricky proposition. Hew strictly to the truth and the story may not be dramatic enough; indulge in creative license and literal-minded people might object. The Glass Menagerie stands as a successful example of the form, whereas the unfinished novel Answered Prayers by Truman Capote so outraged its real-life subjects that it essentially ended his writing career. I’d like to say that Justin Tanner’s new play about his decade of working at the Cast Theatre during the 90s with artistic director Diana Gibson is as successful at capturing the past as Menagerie. Although I enjoyed the show’s humor and performances, it unfortunately feels more like the Capote work and comes off more as a venting of old grievances than a balanced play.
In late 80s Los Angeles, James (Zachary Grant) is hired on as a general assistant at the small Cast Theatre. His two bosses are Monica (Jenny O’Hara) and Danny (Ryan Brophy), one of whom is a holy terror and the other of whom is Danny. Monica takes the “director” part of her artistic director position seriously, and she has rules for everything – radio use, touching her desk, telling callers that she’s always in a meeting – that will receive swift punishment if broken. As James turns out to be a good playwright, however, she declares herself his muse, demanding credit for his successes while otherwise continually belittling him. Eventually, something has to give, but will James have the courage to leave?
Grant gives a solid performance as the lead character/occasional narrator James, but ironically his role seems the least developed in the script, as if the playwright didn’t quite know what to do with the character based upon himself. Brophy brings great energy and comedic chops to his performance as Danny, but his character isn’t given that much to do, because this play is pretty much focused on the Gibson role. Monica is a great part for O’Hara, and she makes the delightful most of it, roaring and wheedling with delicious gusto, but also she also brings Monica’s vulnerability and humanity out in her performance in ways that the script doesn’t do quite as well.
Director Lisa James gets strong, funny performances from her cast, and her pacing is admirably fleet. John Iacovelli’s set manages to effectively create two believable spaces on the diminutive Matrix stage, which is no small feat. Tanner is a talented writer with a flair for humor, and this play is indeed very funny. However, it’s also a one-sided stream of vitriol against Monica, which considering that it’s based on the departed Gibson, leaves me with a bit of a sour aftertaste in that the subject isn’t here to defend herself. There’s a sense that Tanner is trying to moderate this attack a bit by implying that Monica makes James’s writing better, but there’s so little of that sentiment expressed in the piece that the show feels unbalanced.
As it stands, Little Theatre will likely entertain local audiences who are familiar with the source history or may have even known the protagonists, but I think if this show is ever to have a production somewhere other than in L.A., it needs a rewrite.
Playwright: Justin Tanner
Directed by: Lisa James
Produced by: Guillermo Cienfuegos (A Rogue Machine Production)
Presented by Rogue Machine
7657 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90046
8pm Wednesdays – Saturdays, 3pm on Sundays
Added performance on Monday 12/19 at 8pm
No performances on 12/24, 25, 31 or 1/1/23
Runs through January 8, 2023
For phone reservations call 855-585-5185
$45,00 for general admission
$35 seniors, $25 students (with proof)